The Artistic Legacy of Jiangsu and Beyond
The old capital of Nanjing is a dispirited city with a rich lingering ambience. I, like many people in the art circles who lack an opportunity to visit the city, harbour complex feelings toward the city that are difficult to describe.
In the history of Chinese painting, Nanjing is an important city whose contribution is impossible to disentangle. Here one can still find traces of the career of the celebrated painter Gu Kaizhi. Shizhuzhai shuhua pu (The Shizhu Studio Catalogue of Calligraphy and Painting), the great woodblock catalogue of Hu Zhengyan (ca. 1582–ca. 1672), is still in circulation here. Qingliangshan, the former residence of Gong Xian (1618–1689), the “most important of the Eight Masters of Jinling (Nanjing),” still welcomes visitors. And the works of Xu Beihong (1895–1953), Liu Haisu (1896–1994), Fu Baoshi (1904–1965), Lin Sanzhi (1898–1989), and Gao Ershi (1903–1977) are highly sought after by collectors in the art market. With its two-thousand-year history of painting, Nanjing still cultivates numerous artists, many of whom achieve prominent recognition in the arts.
Perhaps due to its rich historic legacy, or because of the lush scenery of the Jiangnan region, the artists of Nanjing exude a sense of sophistication and developed a distinctively refined-watery style in their works. This style appears not only in Chinese ink paintings, but also in oil paintings, prints, and other forms of contemporary art works. One can assert that this refined style is the common characteristic of Nanjing artists. Whether it be the paintings of literati, works of the Neo-Jinling School, paintings of the new literati, and even contemporary ink art, all the works of Nanjing artists display this distinctive style.
History has bestowed on Nanjing a heavy burden of the past with a faint aire of bright intelligence and profound refinement. To break out of what scholars politely refer to as the “Nanjing style” is no easy matter. Fortunately, in the present art works before us, other than those imitating traditional motifs, each manifests a unique style.
This uncommon artistic individuality also arises from a background specific to Nanjing. Nanjing is a tolerant city. Owing to a destructive Japanese campaign during the Second Sino-Japanese War, most long-term residents of the city are actually immigrants from other areas. This is also true of artists, many of whom come from the surrounding provinces of Shanghai, Jiangsu, Anhui, and Zhejiang, or the region north and south of the Yangtze River. For example, Dong Xinbin (Lot 41), Zhou Yiqing (Lot 57), and Jiang Hongwei (Lot 46) are from Wuxi; Yang Chunhua (Lots 42 and 43) from Shanghai; Xue Liang (Lot 55) from Jingjiang in Jiangsu. Moreover, the careers of these artists directed their artistic development in different directions. Yet at the same time, the Jiangnan tradition of painting prepared these artists with fundamental techniques that impart an innate beauty to their works. For example, Dong Xinbin studied under Qin Guliu and Liu Haisu, and Zhou Jingxin (Lot 56) and Xu Lei (Lot 50) studied under Fang Jun. But more worthy of note is that these artists studied from each other, such as Dong Xinbin and Zhu Xinjian (Lot 40), as well as Zhu Xinjian and Li Jin (Lot 54) who cultivated mutual artistic exchanges. Hence, artists graduating from the same art academy or even having the same mentors developed different styles and traits owing to their different paths of development.
Nanjing tolerance also has an effect in cultural and artistic circles. Nanjing is different from other cities in how its circles interact. Its painters, writers, and even folk artists, often meet in their daily lives. This is perhaps owing to the literati tradition of cultivating intellectuals and scholars in the city. Incidentally, among the Nanjing artists, Xu Lele (Lot 44), Zhu Xinjian, and Gao Yun were all at one time popular comic artists, and the distinguished printmaker Zhou Yiqing once illustrated many novels with his engravings.
The rare quality of Nanjing is its tolerance cultivates openly expressive artistic styles. In contrast to Shanghai, where tolerance means mutual non-interference, and to students, who simply imitate their teachers, in Nanjing its quality of tolerance needs to be carefully distinguished by artist. Even though Xu Lele, Zhou Jingxin, and Zhu Xinjian all developed their artistic skills by painting figures, their works exhibit enormous differences in form and brushwork, and even though Fang Jun and Xue Liang excel at painting landscapes, their trees maintain distinctive forms in respective landscape compositions. And just as women avoid wearing the same dress as others, so do these artists seek to preserve their individuality.
The artists of Nanjing revere and borrow from other masters adept in traditional styles and aesthetics, but as ever, the mandate is always to transform the tradition. Among the innovative Nanjing artists, there is the studied and breakaway painter Dong Xinbin, the inventive bold-figure painter Zhou Jingxin, and the genteel classicist Xu Lele. There are also the nonconformist styles of Jin Weihong (Lot 53), the whimsical images of Zhu Xinjian, the colourful compositions of Yang Chunhua, the lively depictions of Zhang Youxian (Lot 52), and the magical scenes of A Hai (Lot 51). In addition to the Nanjing ink-wash painters, there are those artists who are closely connected to Nanjing art circles such as Li Jin, who paints in vivid colours, Xue Liang, who creates imaginative landscapes, Jiang Hongwei, who paints in the style of the Song dynasty, Xu Lei, who sinuously synthesizes images of tradition and the present, Liu Dan (Lot 49), who pays homage to scholars rocks, Shen Qin (Lot 48), who envisions tranquil landscapes, Lei Miao (Lot 45), who presents deeply thoughtful scenes, and even the Korean artist Moon Bong Sun (Lot 47) who studied painting in the literati tradition in Nanjing. In summary, all of these artists contribute to the rich, luminous art scene of Nanjing.
It can be said that Nanjing’s quality of tolerance is recognized in today’s art scene. The art market bustles, but lacks a loud clamour; it hustles along beneath the guise of a quiet, cultured society. All the while artists under Nanjing’s influence continue to engage in a refined dialogue and to create unique personal expressions.
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