The National Palace Museum has a fine collection of works by the Four Great Masters of the Ming Dynasty (Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin, and Qiu Ying) and is presenting a series of special exhibitions on these artists this year. Following the first and second exhibits on Shen Zhou and Wen Zhengming, respectively, this one represents the third installment, which focuses on the painting and calligraphy of Tang Yin 唐寅 (1470-1524). Born in the “gengyin 庚寅” year under the Chinese zodiac of the tiger, Tang was given the name “Yin 寅,” and his early style name was Bohu (meaning “tiger”). His style name was later changed to Ziwei, and he also had the sobriquet Liuru jushi. A native of Wuxian in Jiangsu (modern Suzhou), Tang Yin showed genius in childhood and by the age of sixteen had entered a state school. Placing first in the apprentice civil service exams, he was appointed as a Government Student in Suzhou Prefecture. He thereupon came under the guidance of such senior Hanlin Academy scholars from Wu (Suzhou) as Wen Lin, Wang Ao, and Yang Xunji. Promoting ancient-style prose with the likes of Zhu Yunming, Wen Zhengming, and Xu Zhenqing, Tang Yin became known as one of the “Four Talents of Wu.” In 1498, he then sat for and placed first in the next level of civil service exams on the provincial level in Yingtian Prefecture (modern Nanjing). The following year he participated in the metropolitan examination held in the capital but was accused of being part of a cheating scandal. Dismissed and thrown into prison, he was later released and banished as a low official, which he refused to accept out of shame. Experiencing the vagaries of the examination system, Tang became disenchanted with the traditional route to fame and position through government office, beginning his travels in Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Hunan, and later making a living with his brush. In 1514, he was offered and accepted a substantial position to go to Nanchang and serve under Zhu Chenhao, the Prince of Ning, in Jiangxi. However, seeing that the prince had ambitions to usurp the throne, Tang feigned madness and was allowed to leave, thereby averting the disaster that later befell Zhu. Tang Yin thus led a life of many ups and downs, suffering from both poverty and sickness. Destitute in his later years, he died of illness on the second day of the twelfth lunar month in the second year of the Jiajing year (7 January 1524) at the age of 54.
Tang Yin was good at poetry and excelled at painting, befriending Zhu Yunming, Wen Zhengming, and Zhang Ling in his younger years and leaving behind many poems and paintings exchanged and harmonizing with them. In painting, Tang studied under Shen Zhou and Zhou Chen, acquiring profound insight into the Southern Song academic style while absorbing widely from the traditions of Yuan and early Ming literati painting. Zhu Yunming, in his “Engraved Tomb Inscription for Tang Yin,” once wrote of Tang that, “When his extraordinary talent flared, he would lodge it in painting, his brushwork often pursuing the Tang and Song masters.” Tang Yin’s themes in painting are quite diverse, including landscape, lady, narrative, flower, bamboo, and rock subjects. His beautifully smooth and elegantly refined use of brush and ink was rendered with exquisite liveliness in compositions masterfully arranged. In calligraphy, Tang adopted the style of the Yuan master Zhao Mengfu but also looked back to Li Yong and Yan Zhenqing of the Tang dynasty. Though Tang Yin established a personal style of his own in running script, his gift in calligraphy was overshadowed by the fame of his painting, resulting in relatively few surviving examples of his writing.
A total of seventy works by Tang Yin as well as teachers and associates have been selected from the National Palace Museum collection for this special exhibition. The display is divided into four sections: “Landscape Painting and Poetry,” “Ladies and Figures,” “Flowers, Bamboo, and Rocks,” and “The Art of Calligraphy.” Reflecting a diversity of stylistic characteristics, they fully express the artistic origins and achievements of Tang Yin, one of the most legendary figures among the Four Great Masters of the Ming Dynasty.
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