The Qing Dynasty

Orthodox Confucian Painting under the Qing Dynasty

The early Qing Dynasty developed in two main strands, one of which was the Orthodox school of Confucian paintings.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate the work of the Six Orthodox Masters of the Qing Dynasty from that of their individualist contemporaries

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Under the Qing Dynasty , traditional forms of art flourished and innovations were made at many levels and in many types. High levels of literacy, prosperous cities, a successful publishing industry, and the Confucian emphasis on cultivation all fed a lively and creative set of cultural fields.
  • The early Qing dynasty developed in two main strands: the Orthodox School and the Individualist painters. Both approaches followed the theories of Dong Qichang but stressed different aspects.
  • The Six Masters of the early Qing period were a group of major Orthodox artists whose art was generally conservative, cautious, subtle, and complex, in contrast to the vigorous and vivid painting of their individualist contemporaries.The Four Wangs—Wang Jian, Wang Shimin, Wang Yuanqi, and Wang Hui—were particularly renowned in the Orthodox School and sought inspiration in recreating the past styles , especially the technical skills in brushstrokes and calligraphy of ancient masters.

Key Terms

  • “Four Wangs”: A group of Chinese painters of the Qing Dynasty, particularly renowned in the ç, who sought inspiration in recreating the past styles, especially the technical skills in brushstrokes and calligraphy of ancient masters.

Overview: Qing Dynasty Painting

The Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The Qing multi-cultural empire lasted almost three centuries and formed the territorial base for the modern Chinese state.

Under the Qing Dynasty, traditional forms of art flourished and many types of innovations were made at many levels. High levels of literacy, prosperous cities, a successful publishing industry, and the Confucian emphasis on cultivation all fed a lively and creative set of cultural fields. The early Qing dynasty developed in two main strands of painting: the Orthodox School and the Individualist painters. Both schools followed the theories of Dong Qichang, though emphasizing very different aspects.

Orthodox Painting

The Qing emperors were often skilled in painting and offered their patronage to Confucian culture . The Kangxi and Qianlong Emperors, for instance, embraced Chinese traditions both to control them and to proclaim their own legitimacy. Under the Orthodox School, court painters made new versions of the Song masterpiece, Zhang Zeduan ‘s Along the River During the Qingming Festival, whose depiction of a prosperous and happy realm demonstrated the beneficence of the emperor. The most impressive aesthetic works during this period were done among the scholars and urban elite. Calligraphy and painting remained a central interest to both court painters and scholar-gentry who considered the Four Arts (music, strategy games, calligraphy, and painting) part of their cultural identity and social standing.

The painting of the early years of the dynasty included such painters as the orthodox Six Masters, including the Four Wangs. The 19th century saw such innovations as the Shanghai School and the Lingnan School, which used the technical skills of tradition to set the stage for modern painting.

The Six Masters

The Six Masters of the early Qing period were a group of major Chinese artists who worked in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Also known as Orthodox masters, they continued the tradition of the scholar-painter, following the injunctions of the artist-critic Dong Qichang late in the Ming Dynasty. The works of the Six Masters are generally conservative, cautious, subtle, and complex in contrast to the vigorous and vivid painting of their individualist contemporaries.

Colorful peonies on a dark green backdrop.

Yun Shouping, Peonies, Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk (17th-18th century): Yun’s style was vibrant and expressive; he attempted to display the inner vitality and spirit of his subjects in painting.

The Six Masters include the flower painter Yun Shouping, the landscape painter Wu Li, and the Four Wangs: Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Yuanqi, and Wang Hui. The Four Wangs were particularly renowned in the Orthodox School and sought inspiration in recreating the past styles, especially the technical skills in brushstrokes and calligraphy of ancient masters. The younger Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715) ritualized the approach of engaging with, and drawing inspiration from, the work of an ancient master. His own works were often annotated with his theories of how his paintings relate to the master’s model.

image

Wang Hui, Clearing Autum Sky over a Fishing Vilage, hanging scroll, ink and light colors on paper (1680): Wang Hui and the three other Wangs dominated Orthodox art in China throughout the late Ming and early Qing periods. Of the Four Wangs, Wang Hui is considered to be the best known today.

Individualist Painting under the Qing Dynasty

During the Qing Dynasty, painters known as Individualists rebelled against many of the traditional rules of painting through free brushwork.

Learning Objectives

Explain how the work of Individualists of the Qing Dynasty, such as Shitao, deviated from the traditional rules of painting.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During the early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), two main strands of painting developed: the Orthodox School and the Individualist painters.
  • While Orthodox painters such as the Six Masters focused on a style that was conservative, cautious, subtle, and complex, Individualist painters tended to produce more vigorous and vivid works of art.
  • The Individualist painters included Bada Shanren and Shitao , who drew more from the revolutionary ideas of transcending the tradition to achieve an original, individualistic style.
  • The art created by Shitao was revolutionary in its transgressions of the rigidly codified techniques and styles that dictated what was considered beautiful.

Key Terms

  • Qing Dynasty: The last dynasty of China, lasting from 1644 to 1912.
  • Bada Shanren: (1626-1705) A Chinese painter of shuimohua and a calligrapher.
  • Shitao: (1641-1707) A Chinese landscape painter and poet during the early Qing Dynasty.

Breaking From Orthodox Traditions

During the early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), painters known as Individualists rebelled against many of the traditional rules of painting and found ways to express themselves more directly through free brushwork. While Orthodox painters such as the Six Masters focused on a style that was conservative, cautious, subtle, and complex, Individualist painters tended to produce more vigorous and vivid works of art.

The Individualist painters included Bada Shanren (1626–1705) and Shitao (1641–1707), who both drew from the revolutionary ideas of transcending tradition to achieve an original style. In this way, they were more faithfully following the way of Dong Qichang than the Orthodox School, who were considered his official direct followers.

image

Two Birds by Bada Shanren (1650–1705): Bada Shanren paintings feature sharp brush strokes that are attributed to the sideways manner by which he held his brush.

Painting Styles

The paintings of Bada Shanren feature sharp brush strokes, which are attributed to the sideways manner by which he held his brush. The art created by Shitao was revolutionary in its transgressions of the rigidly codified techniques and styles that dictated what was considered beautiful. In his time, imitation was valued over innovation, and although Shitao was clearly influenced by his predecessors (namely Ni Zan and Li Yong), his art breaks with theirs in several new and fascinating ways.

Painting depicts a tall, craggy peak overlooking a pavilion alongside a river. More peaks and a waterfall are in the background.

Pine Pavilion Near a Spring by Shitao (1675): Shitao is one of the most famous individualist painters of the early Qing Dynasty. The art he created was revolutionary in its transgressions of the rigidly codified techniques and styles that dictated what was considered beautiful.

Shitao’s formal innovations in depiction include drawing attention to the act of painting itself through his use of washes and bold, impressionistic brushstrokes, as well as an interest in subjective perspective and the use of negative or white space to suggest distance. The poetry and calligraphy that accompany his landscapes are just as vivid and irreverent as the paintings they complement. His paintings exemplify the internal contradictions and tensions of the literati or scholar-amateur artist, and they have been interpreted as an invective against art-historical canonization.

Reminiscences of Qin-Huai is one of Shitao’s unique paintings. Like many paintings from the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties, it deals with man’s place in nature. Upon first viewing, the craggy peak in this painting seems somewhat distorted. What makes this painting so unique is that, upon closer inspection, it appears to depict the mountain bowing. A monk stands placidly on a boat that floats along the Qin-Huai river, staring up in admiration at the stone giant. The economy of respect that circulates between man and nature is explored here in a sophisticated style reminiscent of surrealism or magical realism and bordering on the absurd. Shitao himself had visited the river and the surrounding region in the 1680s, but it is unknown whether the album that contains this painting depicts specific places.

image

Reminiscences of Qin-Huai by Shitao: Like many of the paintings from the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, Shitao’s Reminiscences of Qin-Huai deals with man’s place in nature.