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Left to right: Qing dynasty 1644–1911, Meat-shaped stone; Ming dynasty 1368–1644, Portrait of the Hongzhi Emperor. The National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photos: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

SYDNEY.- The Art Gallery of New South Wales is presenting Heaven and earth in Chinese art: treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to encounter some of the highest artistic achievements in Chinese history. 

Featuring 87 masterworks the exhibition explores the extraordinary creativity of Chinese artists over the centuries, with objects dating from 5000 years ago in the Neolithic period to the nineteenth century.

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Northern Song late 1000s–early 1100s, Song dynasty 960–1279, 'Celadon warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom’, porcelain, ru ware, 10.4 × 16.2 cm (rim diam), National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Dr Michael Brand said the National Palace Museum holds one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese art with the majority of its holdings originating from the Imperial collections of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). 

One of the most-visited museums in the world, the National Palace Museum in Taipei has a collection of outstanding beauty and historical importance

Heaven and earth in Chinese art presents the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of tian ren he yi, the harmonious coexistence of nature and humans within the cosmos, which holds particular relevance today as we face the environmental challenges of contemporary life,” Dr Brand said. 

The Art Gallery of NSW is the first cultural institution to host these extraordinary objects in Australia providing local audiences an exclusive opportunity to see how Chinese art speaks to the modern world,” Dr Brand added. 

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Qianlong 1736–95. Qing dynasty 1644–1911, Chen Zuzhang (active 18th century) Olive pit in the form of a boat, 1737, National Palace Museum, TaipeiImage © Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

Dr Chen, Chi-nan, Director of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, said the museum has had a long-term commitment to international cultural exchange and has successfully curated a large number of exhibitions in Europe, America and Asia from its collection. 

Despite this impressive record, the National Palace Museum, Taipei, has not exhibited in the southern hemisphere, until now,” Dr Chen said. 

Major highlights from the National Palace Museum collection travelling to Sydney include one of its most popular treasures: the Meat-shaped stone – a Qing dynasty masterpiece. This is only the third time it has been seen outside Taipei,” Dr Chen said. 

The Meat-shaped stone, carved from jasper and set in a decorative gold stand, draws thousands of admirers a day. The stone most closely resembles the dish dongpo rou which is believed to have been invented by Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi), an 11th-century Chinese poet and artist. 

 

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Qing dynasty 1644–1911, Meat-shaped stoneNational Palace Museum, TaipeiImage © Art Gallery of New South Wales

Art Gallery of NSW exhibition curator and curator of Chinese art, Yin Cao said Heaven and earth in Chinese art showcases the many ways in which Chinese artists have represented the trinity of heaven, earth and humanity. 

Since the earliest times, the Chinese have created imaginative stories and rich symbols to explain the unfathomable aspects of the world around them. Each work in Heaven and earth in Chinese art tells a unique story of the society in which it is created and bears a broader cultural and philosophical meaning,” Cao said. 

From the miniature carving of an olive pit to one of the longest paintings in Chinese history, this exhibition presents the highest level of artistic skill and advances in technology over the different eras, and shows the aspiration of Chinese artists as they try to capture the essence of nature and the world around them,” Cao added.

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Qianlong 1736–95, Qing dynasty 1644–1911, 'Square curiosity box with multiple treasures' wood, jade, bronze, amber, agate, ink on paper, 19.9 x 25.4 x 25.2 cm (box). National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

Heaven and earth in Chinese art presents paintings, calligraphy, illustrated books, bronzes, ceramics, jade and wood carvings divided into five thematic sections – Heaven and earth, Seasons, Places, Landscape and Humanity. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a book Heaven and earth in Chinese art: treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei edited and written by exhibition curator Yin Cao with Dr Karyn Lai, associate professor of Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of NSW. It includes catalogue entries by National Palace Museum curators.

Qing dynasty 1644–1911

Qing dynasty 1644–1911, 'Painted wood carving of Buddha’s-hand fruit on plate’, porcelain, wood, jade, silk, 11.5 × 15 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

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Qianlong 1736–95, Qing dynasty 1644–1911, 'Wheeled-bird zun vessel’, copper, cloisonné, 25.8 × 21 × 9 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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Qing dynasty 1644–1911, Shen Yuan (1736–95), 'Along the river during the Qingming Festival’ (detail), handscroll, ink and colour on paper, 34.8 × 1185.9 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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Ming dynasty 1368–1644, Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), 'Heavy snow in the mountain passes’ 1528–32 (detail), handscroll, ink and colours on paper, 25.3 × 445.2 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Yuan dynasty 1279–1368, Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), 'Portrait of Su Shi’ 1301

Yuan dynasty 1279–1368, Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), 'Portrait of Su Shi’ 1301 from ‘Odes on the Red Cliff’, album leaf, ink on paper, 27.2 × 11.1 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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Qianlong 1736–95, Qing dynasty 1644–1911, 'The sixth month, from scenes of “The twelve lunar months”’, hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, 320 × 127.6 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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Ming dynasty 1368–1644, Qiu Ying (c1494–1552), 'Fuxi’, leaf 1 from the album 'Orthodoxy of rule through the ages’, album leaf, ink and colours on silk, 32.5 × 32.5 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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Ming dynasty 1368–1644, 'Map of the heavens'. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Image © Art Gallery of New South Wales