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Life in Its Many Forms: Figure Paintings from Across the Ages in the Palace Museum Collection (Phase Ⅲ)

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Location:Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian)

Dates: 2022-08-30 through 2022-10-10

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The exhibition “Life in Its Many Forms: Figure Paintings from Across the Ages in the Palace Museum Collection (Phase Ⅲ)” opened at the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian) in the Palace Museum on August 30 and will continue until October 30, 2022.

Alongside depictions of the “paragon of the nation” and “the elegant retreat” of intellectuals and literati are genre paintings portraying the day-to-day work of ordinary people and their methods of celebrating festivals.

Figure paintings emerged as far back as ancient rock paintings. Since the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC), observing widespread lifestyles and changing folk customs became a political tradition for rulers of ancient dynasties. The social atmosphere, cultural landscape of the remote areas, production of peasants, and trading activities were all vividly recorded and passed down in paintings, which remain of artistic value. With support from the ruling class, painters consciously and carefully recorded lives, gradually making genre painting an important form of visual art. During the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420), several famous painters specialized in capturing rural scenes. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), genre painting peaked with diverse techniques and a wide range of subjects such as agricultural production, fishing and hunting, pottery making, metal smelting, textiles, sacrificial rituals, monthly conventions and local village celebrations, folk games, and traveling merchants. The social activities of ordinary people in ancient times were graphically presented with paintbrushes in pictures, and they continue to capture and hold a viewer’s attention.

Genre paintings have unique artistic, historical, and academic value transcending the depictions of people. The humanistic connotations and care for people conveyed in specific scenes and figures in genre paintings are even more valuable. Generally speaking, although genre paintings depict various subjects, the themes are mainly festive. They tend to show people enjoying a peaceful and prosperous life in the heydays of ancient empires. However, from the different angles of painters of various identities themselves, ancient masters of genre paintings would also, out of sympathy for ordinary people, showed hard parts of daily life. When interpreting and feasting our eyes on genre paintings, we should ponder the true emotions the painter sought to express and appreciate the tender feelings and wisdom reflected in ordinary lives in ancient times.

The third phase of “Figure Paintings from Across the Ages in the Palace Museum Collection,” this exhibition includes a total of 96 genre paintings created in various ancient dynasties. The gestures and facial expressions of the subjects in these masterpieces vividly present ordinary people engaged in common activities and scenes of everyday life in ancient times. Inspecting these paintings up close fosters appreciation of the beauty of art, comprehension of the wisdom of ancient people, and preservation of outstanding culture.

Exhibition Catalog: “Life in Its Many Forms”
To celebrate the third phase of the “Figure Paintings from Across the Ages in the Palace Museum Collection” exhibition, the Palace Museum Publishing House released the exhibition catalog titled “Life in Its Many Forms,” which provides documentation of the exhibition including a list of works displayed. The catalog shows 105 paintings including masterful art pieces such as Scroll Halftime Show of an Aristocratic Hunting by Hu Huan (unconfirmed) of the Five Dynasties (907-960), Picture of Spinning Wheel by Wang Juzheng (unconfirmed) of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), Scroll of View and Customs of Bin by Ma Hezhi (unconfirmed) of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), Pasturing Cattle near a Snowy Rivulet by Xia Gui of the Southern Song Dynasty, Scroll of Itinerant Peddler by Li Song of the Southern Song Dynasty, Children at Play in Spring from the Southern Song Dynasty, Scroll of a Drunk Rural Officer Returning Home by Liu Luzhong of the Southern Song Dynasty, Scroll of Dragon-boat Racing from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Returning Late from a Spring Outing from the Southern Song Dynasty, View of Summer Farmland by Zhou Chen of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Fishing Pleasure by Zhang Ling of the Ming Dynasty, Scroll of Village New Year Celebration by Li Shida of the Ming Dynasty, and Atlas of Dragon Boat Festival Stories by Xu Yang of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The catalog also includes an essay titled “Behind the Pictures—Genre Paintings in the Palace Museum Collection” written by experts from the Palace Museum, which not only informs the general public, but also provides key data for researchers.

Notice on Reservations to Visit the Hall of Literary Brilliance
The exhibition “Life in Its Many Forms: Figure Paintings from Across the Ages in the Palace Museum Collection (Phase Ⅲ)” opened at the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian) in the Palace Museum on August 30 and will continue until October 30, 2022. General admission to the Palace Museum includes free access to this exhibition, but reservations in advance are required. Visitors can make reservations for general admission and the exhibition via the Palace Museum’s official WeChat account with real-name registration. Visitors entering the Palace Museum are required to show the ID card or the passport used to make the reservation, proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours, a green health code, and go through temperature check.  

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