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Past Exhibits

Pure Enjoyment in a Planter: Paintings of Potted Scenery
Pure Enjoyment in a Planter: Paintings of Potted Scenery
  • Dates: 2013/04/01~2013/06/25
  • Gallery: (Northern Branch) Exhibition Area I 212

Exhibit Info

The art of “penjing” (“potted scenery”) uses plants and sometimes rocks to combine design and horticulture within the limited space of a planter, presenting a beautiful microcosm of Nature. Penjing arrangements differ based on the materials, being generally divided into the two categories of plants and landscapes. The former involves appreciating various aspects of plants and miniature trees, including their leaves, blossoms, and fruits, while the latter features select rocks and fine planters to serve as a foil for the vegetation. The foundation for the techniques of plant and landscape pottery scenery established in the Song and Yuan dynasties led to the wide diversity of penjing art forms during the following Ming and Qing dynasties. Lu Rong of the Ming dynasty, for example, in his Miscellaneous Records from Shu Garden, stated, “People in the capital collect painting and calligraphy as well as various curios, penjing, and plants, calling them ‘beloved purities.’” Furthermore, such Ming paintings in this exhibit as Wang Guxiang’s “Grassleaf Sweetflag and Rock in a Planter,” Chen Chun’s “Kun Stone,” and Chen Gua’s “Ever Green (Rohdea)” feature attractive rocks and “sketches-from-life” in ink with calligraphic inscriptions of praise, not only expressing the elegant interests of literati in “growing flowers and cultivating rocks” within courtyards and studios, but also endowing penjing with aesthetic meaning and display value.
The Qing dynasty represented the height of development for Chinese penjing, with planters and displays becoming an indispensable part of court life. Concerning the art of horticulture at court, Gao Shiqi in the early Qing recorded in his Private Jottings in Retirement that “At Southern Garden to the southeast of West Garden Gate are various flowers and trees offered as tribute from the Jiangning, Susong, and Hangzhou imperial textile factories, all of them being watered and cultivated. And in greenhouses herbaceous and tree peonies are all warmed to bloom.” In Jiang Tingxi’s “Moonlit Fragrance (Tuberose)” here are vines climbing bamboo poles, in Yu Sheng’s “Imitating a Potted Orange Tree by the Imperial Brush” is a fruit tree planter that the Qianlong Emperor moved to the capital after an inspection tour of Mt. Pan in Tianjin, in Zou Yigui’s “Ancient Trunk with Plum Blossoms” is an old greenhouse plum tree that Qianlong transported with him on an imperial inspection tour of Suzhou, in Lang Shining’s (Giuseppe Castiglione) “Time-telling Plant from the West” is a mimosa (sensitive) plant in an underglaze-blue planter submitted as tribute by a Western missionary, and in Ding Guanpeng’s “In Imitation of Qiu Ying’s ‘Spring Morning in the Han Palace’” are  beautiful bedded displays of decorative plants in an imperial garden.
“Pure displays of penjing” could also be used to symbolize auspicious blessings. For example, Wang Chengpei’s “Floral Cycle of Longevity” and Shen Huan’s “Pure Displays of Immortal Blossoms” feature combinations of various plants and spirit fungi to highlight the festive seasonal atmosphere with auspicious meaning. In all, this exhibit includes eighteen works of the Ming and Qing dynasties from the National Palace Museum collection that offer a glimpse at the wealth and diversity of China’s penjing culture.
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