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Embracing Sites/Sights: Scenic Landscape Painting in Modern Chinese Art

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The idea of "landscape" (Chinese: "shanshui," or literally "mountains and waters") is today often considered a unique subject in Chinese painting that differs from Western notions of "landscape" (translated into Chinese as "fengjing," or "scenery"), which usually describes a particular place experienced personally by the artist. From the Chinese perspective, however, "mountains and waters" are not necessarily a visual record of scenery viewed by an artist at a particular time but rather a land of the imagination constructed in the mind. But in fact, many works depicting specific places have been made in the history of Chinese landscape painting. Such "site-specific" paintings are generally referred to as "real-view," "true-view," or simply "scenic" landscapes. Works on such scenic landscapes have nonetheless often been the subject of poetic imagining and personal feeling. Along with inspiration from pictorial traditions, these paintings form a product of interaction between people and places as well as styles and schemata not necessarily related to the actual appearance of scenery.

Since the twentieth century, tourism at scenic areas has flourished as a result of transportation infrastructure developments and government policies. Combined with the popularity of photography and the import of "plein-air" (or outdoor) painting techniques from the European tradition, the depiction of famous sights gradually became a trend. "To travel ten thousand miles" was increasingly of paramount inspiration for painters, leading them to ponder how to reconcile the "on-site" presence of photography and plein-air painting with the eternal quality of traditional landscape painting. Some Chinese artists even turned to their roots in the landscape painting of ancient times to reinvent styles based on the "sketching from life" of actual scenes in nature.

This exhibition features six sections: "Style Versus Scenery," "The True Mount Lu," "Travel in the Modern Era," "Taking Hold of the Landscape," "The Politics of Scenic Painting," and "Inspired by Scenic Views." Together, they present the capacity of painting styles to capture scenic views, the viewpoints and framework that influenced their depiction, and the development of scenic landscape painting under the influence of twentieth-century outdoor painting and political circumstances. This exploration of scenic landscape painting in modern times allows us to better understand the paradoxically close yet sometimes aloof relationship between "scenic views" and "landscape painting" in Chinese art.


Publication: Embracing Sites/Sights: Scenic Landscape Painting in Modern Chinese Art(in Chinese)

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