Critics’ Picks

Huang Gongwang, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (detail), c. 1269–1354, ink on paper, 13" x 21'.


Dong Qichang

National Palace Museum
No.221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Road Shilin District
January 9–March 29, 2016

The late-Ming-dynasty painter Dong Qichang was a great synthesizer of earlier styles, and so it makes sense that the current exhibition, at the world’s foremost collection of classical Chinese art, sheds equal light on his activities as a collector and connoisseur, as these pursuits were inseparable from his own artistic output. For instance, his small painting Exotic Peaks and White Clouds, ca. 1611—which consists of a solitary pointed peak rising above a bed of mist, while below is a blurred conglomeration of trees and some implied thatched houses—can be compared here with the innovative “cloudy mountain” style of painting first put forth by father and son painters Mi Fu and Mi Youren during the Song dynasty. The latter artist’s At Ease Among Cloudy Mountains, ca. 960–1279, included in this show, deploys very light washes of ink in rendering the flow of the landscape from right to left across a scroll’s length—a perfect, wavelike rhythm.

The exhibition’s star attraction is Huang Gongwang’s long scroll Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, ca. 1269–1354, which once formed an integral part of Dong’s collection. From a short distance, inky gray blurs form distant treetops; up close, the eye discovers that the trees’ leaves have been carefully formed with thin, minute strokes. The foliage peters out in the midsection, where the desolation of a steppe slowly emerges. Then, as grass begins to appear, there is a lengthening of the monochromatic lines, from which sprout other trees. The process climaxes in the emergence of a majestically high mountain, with black dots cresting its ridges.