Tai Chin, who went by the style name Wen-chin and the sobriquets Ching-an and Yu-ch'uan shan-jen, was a native of Ch'ien-t'ang (modern Hangchow). He is said as a youth to have studied painting under local artists, specializing and achieving fame in the fields of landscapes and figures. During the Hsuan-te reign (1426-1435), he was recommended for service at court, where he was admired by the nobility for his great skill. His fellow painters, however, became envious and later rejected him. Tai Chin thereupon returned home to the south, where he continued to paint in Hangchow. With numerous students, he came to have an enormous influence on painting at the time. Consequently, later generations have revered him as the father of the Che School that emerged afterwards in the area.
The Che School was an important art movement in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) that emerged from the unique historical background of the area. After the Southern Sung (1127-1279) government moved the capital to Hangchow, the cultural and economic conditions of the surrounding Chekiang area flourished, making it the heart of the country. Court painters, such as Ma Yuan and Hsia Kuei, came to dominate the art scene, specializing in lyrical visions of the surrounding mist-laden hills that were admired by their fellows. After the Sung perished in 1279, the court style was preserved in the Chekiang area by local professional painters. By the Ming dynasty, this style based on the Southern Sung academic mode became marked by rough and unbridled brushwork. It was known as the Che School, named after the area from which it emerged.
In the history of Chinese painting, Tai Chin is said to have "learned from the virtues of all landscape masters," indicating his broad studies for a multi-faceted style. For example, he not only used the expressive "axe-cut" texture strokes and compositional formulae of Southern Sung court landscapes (represented by the aforementioned Ma and Hsia), but he also absorbed the essence of the Li-Kuo School (based on the styles of Li Ch'eng and Kuo Hsi) as practiced in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). In other words, he borrowed from and transformed the manners of various Sung and Yuan masters.
The surviving works of Tai Chin indicate that he specialized in using moist ink and powerful "axe-cut" texture strokes to represent earthen forms. His concise figures are done with distinct brushwork, often using what are known as "silkworm-head" and "rat-tail" strokes. Although Tai Chin learned from the ancients, especially the Ma-Hsia style, he was by no means restrained by them. Rather, he synthesized and innovated to create a new style marked by lush ink washes and staccato brushwork--combining both lyricism and energy in his paintings. Nor were his landscapes confined to actual geographic representations, as he used quick and precise brushwork to convey a subjective vision of the land both intimate yet monumental. He also focused on the painting surface, disregarding conventions for three-dimensional space in order to create a vivid and dynamic effect. Influenced by his style, later Che School followers became increasingly decorative in their approach.
The collection of the National Palace Museum includes almost twenty works by Tai Chin. Some of the most important of these have been selected for a special display, presenting the style of Tai Chin for the study and appreciation of scholars and visitors alike.
Introduction | Selections | Back to Exhibitions