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2021 Academic Lecture Organized by Peking University and the Palace Museum: Zhao Guoying “Legacy and Estrangement: Discussion on the Developmental Connections between the Painting Styles of Dong Qichang and Wang Jian”

Updated: 2021-06-11 13:55:43

On 21 May 2021, the Palace Museum’s Deputy-Director Zhao Guoying presented the lecture “Legacy and Estrangement: Discussion on the Developmental Connections between the Painting Styles of Dong Qichang and Wang Jian” by invitation at Peking University. This is the third lecture in the 2021 series organized jointly by Peking University and the Palace Museum, namely by Peking University’s Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Palace Museum’s Palace Museum Research Institute. Vice-Dean Liu Chen of Peking University’s School of Arts hosted the lecture.


Deputy-Director Zhao Guoying


Vice-Dean Liu Chen of Peking University’s School of Arts

As one of the members of the Four Wangs school of painting in the early-Qing period (Qing dynasty, 1644–1911), Wang Jian (1598–1677) in his formative years studied the Southern school (Nanzong) advocated by Dong Qichang (1555–1636) and, then, beginning in his middle years gradually departed from Dong’s painting theory and pursued the ideal of blending elements of adept painters and literati styles (zuojia jian shiqi), which developed into a pervasive adoption of ancient forms (shigu) and an orientation towards a blended Southern-Northern school approach. With shared origins but different interests, Wang Jian took a path different from Dong Qichang, Wang Shimin (1592–1680), and Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715) and finally with his pupil Wang Shigu (1632–1717) formed a separate stylistic type within the Four Wangs school. This lecture, based in a discussion of the relationship between Wang Jian and Dong Qichang and the former’s departure from the received Southern school, considered the reasons for the formation of the blended approach within the Four Wangs of the late-Ming (Ming dynasty,1368–1644) and early-Qing received school of painting as well as the relationship between the history of painting and the history of authentication and collection.

Deputy-Director Zhao Guoying first began by introducing the background to this topic: the development of Chinese landscape painting, which has had a close connection with the assessment of whether a style emulates the ancients (shigu) and the question of how to do so. In the late-Ming and early-Qing period, the fashion of reproducing ancient styles emerged within the Four Wangs with Dong Qichang’s advocacy of the Southern school as well as among the landscape painting community. In fact, two different stylistic types existed within the Four Wangs school. If, following the direction of “purified literati painting” led by Dong Qichang, the greater emphasis on abstract ink expression by Wang Shimin and Wang Yuanqi is considered one type, the art of Wang Jian and Wang Shigu may be considered another. This type of painting, although having origins in esteem for the Southern school, had a path of development that in the end broke from Dong Qichang’s division of Southern and Northern schools. As an outsider yet embracing some elements of the original school, Wang Shigu is an outstanding example of this trend, but the pioneer of his approach was none other than Wang Jian.

Deputy-Director Zhao Guoying indicated how the development of Wang Jian’s personal painting style transitioned from a vigorous, smooth style to one of meticulous portrayal. This divergence from the typical styles not only involved the influence of the blended style as represented by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) in the history of painting but, moreover, is related to the utility of private collectors in the development of painting styles as well as painting itself and collection. The exploration of its origins and developmental trajectory is a topic significant to both painting history and the history of authentication and collection.

Portrait of Wang Jian

Professor Liu Chen expressed thanks for the lecture and shared how Director Zhao, starting with the development of the painting theories of Wang Jian and Dong Qichang, vividly described the interaction between the world of painting and calligraphy and authentication and collection of the Ming and Qing while demonstrating the multidimensional interlacing history of collection and painting as well as multidimensional and holistic historical aspects. Additionally, she expressed how Director Zhao provided important lessons by using primary sources for information and stressed the research of inscriptions on paintings.

During interactions with the audience, Director Zhao provided detailed answers to questions on the fashion of reproducing ancient styles (fanggu) in the early-Qing period and Wang Jian’s painting theory. She noted how the preference for imitating ancient art had a strong connection with the social milieu of the late-Ming and early-Qing period. During the tumultuous demise of the Ming dynasty, many court paintings in the imperial collection reached the hands of private collectors, which created conditions for the rise of ancient styles. However, once the Qing dynasty was firmly in power, many celebrated works of calligraphy and paintings were acquired by the new imperial establishment, so painters unable to study historical works merely learned from the art of their masters or peers, which to some degree led to the demise of the Four Wangs school of painting.


Audience Questions

Chinese article by Duan Ying, edited by Xu Bingbin and Wang Zilin
Photography by Sui Xiaolin
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu


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