For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2003

Masterworks of Chinese Painting: In Pursuit of Mists and Clouds

Through January 5, 2003
West and Box Galleries

Mists and Clouds
Wang Zhen Wang Chen
Two Men under a Tree, from an album of Figures and Landscapes
Album leaf, ink and color on paper, dated 1914
Ching Yüan Chai Collection, CT.29.7

Masterworks of Chinese Painting: In Pursuit of Mists and Clouds offers a rich overview of Chinese painting from the twelfth to twentieth centuries. The works in the exhibition were assembled during the past half-century by the distinguished UM alumnus James Cahill and his family. Dr. Cahill is a preeminent scholar of Chinese art and a professor emeritus of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

The exhibition opens with early landscape painting, featuring works from the Southern Sung (1127–1279) through the early Ming (1368–1644) dynasties. Painted in ink on silk that has darkened with age, these paintings are difficult to see at first, but they reward quiet attention by slowly revealing ever more exquisite brushwork. Perhaps the most hauntingly beautiful of these is Wind and Snow in the Fir-Pines, a thirteenth-century painting by Kuo Min: one can feel the chill of the snow on the mountain peaks and sense the crackling winter air.

In the sections on landscapes of the Ming and Ch’ing (1644–1911) periods, we find tall, narrow hanging scrolls, handscrolls that unwind through time and space, and intimately scaled album leaves. The idyllic mountain retreats featured in so many of these paintings may simply be projections of the artist’s imagination, or they may allude to actual locations.

In the second through eighth centuries, narrative and portraiture were regarded as vehicles for teaching moral values. In later periods, when those expectations had changed, artists were freer to express their own personalities in figure painting. A delightful example is The Gathering in the Apricot Garden, a painting by the Ming artist Ts’ui Tzu-chung, which depicts Ts’ui himself and a patron-friend in the patron’s garden, having tea.

Paintings of flora and fauna in China were traditionally associated with the imperial court or—with the growth of a mercantile economy in the late Ming period—a wealthy, urban middle class. Frequently associated with auspicious occasions, bird-and-flower paintings are often the most closely attentive to nature, especially in the Sung through mid-Ch’ing periods; but with the Shanghai School of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, artistic freedom bursts forth with unprecedented color and vibrancy.

Maribeth Graybill
Senior Curator of Asian Art

Masterworks of Chinese Painting: In Pursuit of Mists and Clouds is organized and circulated by the Berkeley Art Museum and is guest curated by Julia M. White, Curator of Asian Art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The exhibition is made possible by Dorothy Dunlap Cahill, Hsingyuan Tsao and James Cahill, Nicholas Cahill, and Sarah Cahill, and by an anonymous donor. Major support is provided by United Commercial Bank, the Shenson Foundation, and Jane R. Lurie.

Additional generous support is provided by The Richard J. Bertero Family; April and Glenn Bucksbaum; Judy and Paul Cortese; Maryellen and Frank Herringer; Antonia Hotung and Bruno Hicks; Shirley, Philomena, and Phillip King; Doris and Theodore Lee; Eddie and Amy Orton; Camille and Edward Penhoet; Linda Rawlings and Gordon Astles; Sharon and Barclay Simpson; and Nadine Tang and Bruce Smith.

Additional funding is provided by Tecoah and Thomas Bruce, Lois De Domenco, Janie and Jeffrey Green, Penny and Noel Nellis, and Judy and John Webb.

DTE Energy Foundation   MCACA

The Ann Arbor showing of the exhibition is made possible by the DTE Energy Foundation, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Office of the Provost of the University of Michigan and the Friends of the Museum of Art. Support for related programming has been provided by the University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies, the Department of History of Art, and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, as well as the Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies, the Katherine Tuck Enrichment Fund, and other generous donors.