The Not Like Everybody – Selected Works of the Yangzhou Art School of the Qing Dynasty exhibition co-organized by Liaoning Provincial Museum, Yangzhou Museum and Guangzhou Art Museum, will be held from 28 August to 28 November 2020 at the Department of Historical Chinese Painting on the first floor of the Guangzhou Art Museum. The opening ceremony will take place on 28 August 2020 at 10:00.
Who are the Yangzhou Eight Oddballs?
In the 18th century, an innovative artistic movement arose in Yangzhou, a large settlement in Southeast China. Its characteristic representatives are: Jin Nong, Zheng Xie, Huang Shen, Wang Shishen, Li Faning, Li Shan, Gao Xiang, Luo Ping, Chen Zhuan, Gao Fenghan, Hua Yan, Bian Shomin, Li Mian, Yang Fa and others. They did not obey the limitations of the dominant trend in art, but developed a unique style, each with its own: primitive and simple-minded, wild and unbridled, graceful and free or lively and energetic. Since their lifestyle and creativity stood out against the background of the traditions of that time, contemporaries called them “the eight eccentrics from Yangzhou.”
In “Notes on the Yangzhou Artists” by the Qing author Wang Yun, the words “eccentrics in number eight” appeared. And since then, in different books, there are references to the “eight eccentrics from Yangzhou.” Li Yufen calls Jin Nong, Zheng Xie, Huang Shen, Wang Shishen, Li Fanin, Li Shan, Gao Xiang and Luo Ping the “eight eccentrics” in his “Studies of Painting and Calligraphy from the Oubolo Tower.” This nickname stuck. It is customary to refer to these eight artists as eccentrics from Yangzhou. Modern scholars gradually began to call this group of artists “Yangzhou School of Painting.”
In addition to them, such famous artists as Chen Zhuan, Gao Fenghan, Hua Yan, Bian Shoumin, Li Mian, Yang Fa and others actively worked in the Yangzhou region. Their work is close to the “Eight Eccentrics” in style and spirit, and some later critics also included them in the “Eight”.
What is the strangeness of the “eight eccentrics”?
The painters of the Yangzhou School are not like the rest, their refreshingly new style is distinguished by its independence. All the artists of the school, except for Jin Nong and his student Luo Ping, came from different traditions and trends. They all learned from each other and influenced each other, but did not engage in blind copying, but each developed their own individual manner of writing, their own unique style. Nevertheless, these artists have a lot in common.
First, the era: their creative activity fell mainly in the era of “Kang Yong Qian”, the heyday of the Qing dynasty, and the main place of activity was the city of Yangzhou. Secondly, the ideological content: all the artists of the school rejected the outdated and ossified practices of traditional painting, which was in decline, and in their works often turned to new themes and ideas. They exposed and ridiculed social injustice with all their directness, and deeply sympathized with the bitter life of the people. Third, the artistic style: these artists for the most part continued the tradition of se-i, “painting of ideas”, in their work the influence of such artists as Qing Teng, Bai Yang, Ba Da and Shi Tao is especially strongly traced. At the same time, they advocated innovation and their lyrical works are filled with poetry. Possessing deep knowledge of literature, calligraphy, inscriptions on bronze and stone, “eccentrics” combined poetry, calligraphy and painting into integral works of art. Their works fully embody the peculiarities of the painting of artists-writers “wenzhenhua”, they strongly influenced the development of the modern style of “painting ideas” se-i.
For aesthetic preferences, so far from the mainstream of art, for an expressive free style, fraught with a desire for personal freedom, which is so unlike the customs of that time, contemporaries called them eccentrics.
Yangzhou to Guangzhou
Echoes of the painting style of the Yangzhou School are visible in the art of the Lingnan region in different historical periods, especially the artists Huang Shen and Hua Yan deeply influenced the genre painting and still lifes of this area. Huang Shen visited Lingnan and, among other things, left his mark on Mount Lofu. His influence is evident in the works of many Lingnan genre painters. In the 19th century, two masters of this style appeared in Lingnan – Su Lupeng and Su Renshan. The se-i style in which Huang Shen painted genre painting indirectly influenced both artists. Still lifes created by Hua Yan in a combination of gunbi (“austere brush”) and se-i (“painting of ideas”) styles were very popular among collectors and artists of Lingnan. For many artists of this area, the first steps in mastering the painting of the still life genre of Huangyao was precisely copying the works of Hua Yan, for example, He Chun, Luo Anxian, Ju Chao, Ju Lian, Wu Dei, Rong Zuchun, Gao Jianfu and others learned a lot from him … Works by artists such as Luo Ping, Jin Nong, and Bian Shoumin have also served as role models for Lingnan artists.
Collection of masterpieces in the art museum
To enhance the academic value of the exhibition and enrich the exhibition, the Guangzhou Art Museum invited the Liaoning Provincial Museum and Yangzhou Museum to participate in organizing the exhibition. Both of these museums are known for their rich collections of ancient books and paintings. The partner museums brought 70 paintings and calligraphy to Guangzhou, which, combined with the extensive collection of the Guangzhou museum itself, totaled 126 exhibits (230 items). The exhibition is held in two stages: the first – from 28 August to 18 October, the second – from 22 October to 28 November. The exposition will change between the stages, and the selected works of representatives of the Yangzhou School of Painting will be collected in one room; including works of such artists as Li Mian, Yang Fa, Chen Zhuan, so few of which have survived that it is almost impossible to find them. 15 exhibits are recognized as national cultural values of the first level and 70 – the second level, together they make up 67% of the total number of exhibits. Many valuable works are exhibited for the first time. This is a rare opportunity to get to know the Yangzhou School of Painting.
The exposition includes three sections. The first section is “Eight Eccentrics from Yangzhou”, which features eight artists that critics first dubbed by this name: Jin Nong, Zheng Xie, Huang Shen, Wang Shishen, Li Faning, Li Shan, Gao Xiang, Luo Ping. They communicated quite closely with each other and are the most characteristic representatives of the Yangzhou school of painting. The second section – “Other Artists of the Yangzhou School” – contains works by Hua Yan, Gao Fenghan, Bian Shoumin, Chen Chuang, Li Mian, Yang Fa and others. These artists are close in style to the “eight eccentrics”, and later critics also attributed them to this trend. The third section, “Resonance in Lingnan,” located in the main exhibition hall next to the Lingnan section, exhibits artists from the region from the 19th century to the present day, whose work has an echo of the Yangzhou School.