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Figures of the Chinese Imagination, Part II

March 9, 2015–June 5, 2015
Gallery 134

Inspired by anecdotes, legends, and imaginary perceptions of distant or spiritual realms, Chinese painters portrayed a wide array of figures—eccentric, whimsical, and bizarre. This installation presents a small sampling of such visual imagery. Figures include Buddhist disciples that are portrayed with a fanciful humor and appear only quasi-religious; caricatured depictions of foreign envoys to the Chinese court; and impish ghosts pursuing ordinary activities in a dark and damp underworld. 

Together, these paintings exhibit distinctive styles of brushwork: fine black outline and washes of ink—some carefully graded and others that appear almost slapdash when applied to pre-soaked paper. Still other examples are painted in colorful washes and bright mineral pigments and even display a manner of shading associated with European styles of drawing popular at the 18th-century imperial court.

Hua Ziyou. Bathing of the Buddha Festival (detail), Qing dynasty, 1833. Bequest of Joseph Winterbotham.