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Introduction

Wu Bin (style name Wenzhong; sobriquets Zhiyin toutuo and Zhiyin sheng) was a native of Putian in Fujian. Although his birth and death dates are unknown, he was active around the time of the Wanli reign (1573-1620). Growing up in Putian, Wu Bin gained a reputation for his talent in painting while still young. After reaching adulthood, he went to Nanjing, where he named his residence "Zhiyin Studio." Making the acquaintance of many famous scholars active in Nanjing at the time, Wu Bin even had a collection of poetry published (though unfortunately now lost). Wu was also a devout follower of Buddhism, reverently chanting scriptures on a daily basis and illustrating Buddhist themes in his painting as well. In 1601, for example, he depicted the 500 lohans for the Qixia Temple in Nanjing. Late in the late Wanli reign, Wu Bin traveled to the northern capital of Beijing and served as a court painter. After around 1621, however, few records of his activity remain.

Despite Wu Bin's fame as a painter, he was also gifted at poetry and prose. And as a Buddhist devotee, he became a late Ming layman painter with multiple roles achieving renown for his eccentric and fantastic painting style. The roots of his manner lie in Fujian, absorbing stylistic elements from the Wu School to imbue his brushwork with elegant beauty. He also was influenced by the unbridled and expressionistic brushwork in Zhe School painting. His landscapes often reveal spindly and monumental peaks stretching the bounds of conventional structures. His Buddhist figure paintings feature exaggerated forms suggesting his pursuit of spiritual likeness. And in bird-and-flower painting, Wu Bin focused on the unusual to stretch the boundaries of appearance. Consequently, later people used such terms as "fantastic" and "extraordinary" to praise the fascinating new manner that he developed.

As for the formation of Wu Bin's painting style, modern scholars have suggested Sino-Western cultural exchange in the late Ming period as a possible source, referring to the Westernized appearance of lohans in his paintings and the adoption of landscape elements from Western prints. In particular, Wu Bin's activities surrounding his Buddhist beliefs stand out in the investigation of his free and interpretive methods used to express appearances. Against the backdrop of numerous painting schools in the late Ming, Wu Bin's eccentric manner full of visual tension gradually faded from view, resurfacing again in the early twentieth century, attracting the attention of audiences after images of artworks in the Palace Museum became public. This exhibition of paintings by Wu Bin in the National Palace Museum collection is being held so that audiences can fully appreciate his rich and fantastic realm of painting once again.