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Man of Infinite Refinement: Special Exhibition on the Paintings and Calligraphy of Su Shi in the Palace Museum Collection

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Location:Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian)

Dates: 2020-09-01 through 2020-10-30

From 1 September through 30 October 2020, “Man of Infinite Refinement: Special Exhibition on the Paintings and Calligraphy of Su Shi in the Palace Museum Collection” will be held at the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian) in the Forbidden City.

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Su Shi (1037–1101) is the name of an historical Chinese writer and artist who made remarkable achievements in poetry, painting, and calligraphy while maintaining an elegant lifestyle, having an open-minded attitude toward life, and emitting a unique personal charisma. His art and thought, as well as the delight he took in life, have deeply influenced subsequent generations while he, himself, has become the object of admiration as a literary model.

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The Palace Museum collection contains extant works of calligraphy by Su Shi and some important pieces by his teachers and friends as well as quantities of art that show his influence or those that reflect his artistic thought. These works span a period of time from the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) through the modern era and cover a range of types including calligraphy, paintings, epigraphy rubbings, objects, documents, and rare texts. The number, quantity, and abundance of these works represent certain advantages of the collection. In this unprecedented exhibition, the Palace Museum presents these cultural relics as a vehicle to display the artistic achievements of Su Shi and his personal characteristics.

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The exhibition is comprised primarily of works from the Palace Museum collection and, having received immense support from the Tianjin Museum, presents seventy-eight pieces (or sets) of exquisite art. Most of the works are the finest and most quintessential of their kind, yet care has been taken to select a diversity of pieces to enhance the enjoyability of the exhibition while guaranteeing its scholarly nature.

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The exhibition is divided into four sections. The first section, “A Legend Among His Peers”, explores Su Shi’s social circles and the period in which he lived through his own works and those of his teachers and friends. The second section, “The Painterly Writer”, presents the literary genius of Su Shi by way of his poems as calligraphed by his own hand and by his successors and through paintings inspired by Su Shi’s poetry. The third section, “The Natural Calligrapher”, highlights the calligraphy of Su Shi and his artistic influence through the calligraphic works of Su Shi’s predecessors, his own calligraphy, and reproductions made by subsequent artists. The fourth section, “The Model Literatus” shows Su Shi’s lifestyle and temperament via anecdotal depictions of Su Shi’s life in calligraphy and paintings and by way of essays in which Su Shi expressed his spirit. These four sections present the inner world of Su Shi while outlining a vivid and solid portrait of the artist.

The Forbidden City Publishing House has produced a catalogue for the exhibition with the four sections’ seventy-six works (or sets) of art from the Palace Museum collection. The paintings, calligraphy, rubbings, and objects are accompanied with basic information, introductions to individual works, and six papers written for this topical exhibition by specialists from the Department of Painting and Calligraphy.

The July 2020 issue of the magazine Forbidden City (Zijin cheng) is entitled “Man of Infinite Refinement: Su Shi’s Artistic Achievement and Influence” and includes five related articles with a comprehensive introduction to cultural relics and stories passed down throughout the successive dynasties of Chinese history.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu

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