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Introduction

Ding Yunpeng (style names Nanyu and Wenju; sobriquets Shenghua jushi and Huangshan laoqiao) was a native of Xiuning in Anhui. Though painting catalogues and historical records do not mention his birth and death dates, his extant paintings indicate that he was born in 1547 and still alive in 1628. His father, Ding Zan, was a doctor by profession and fond of collecting, being also gifted at painting and calligraphy. Steeped in such a family background, Ding Yunpeng took up the brush and came to specialize in painting. He often visited and studied under Zhan Jingfeng while associating at one time or another with the likes of such noted contemporaries in the arts as Dong Qichang, Chen Jiru, Mo Shilong, and Wang Zhideng, having the opportunity to view and study the works of Song and Yuan dynasty masters in their collections, thereby providing even further inspiration in his painting. With Ding's gift at poetry and painting along with his devotion to Buddhism, the Buddhist figures he depicted appear particularly spirited and radiant. Therefore, Dong Qichang not only likened Ding Yunpeng to the great Tang dynasty poet-painter Wang Wei, he even praised Ding as "unparalleled over the past three centuries."

The landscapes, figures, and flowers done by Ding Yunpeng were all exquisite, but most of his works seen today deal with landscape and figure subjects. His landscape painting is similar to the methods used in the Wu School, harking back to masters of the Song and Yuan dynasties. His early works feature delicate brushwork and dense compositions with elegant coloring that still reflect traces of the literati painter Wen Zhengming. The use of brush and ink in Ding's later works, however, tends to be loftier and more mature, the compositions often arranged in a somewhat unusual manner all his own. In figure and Buddhist painting, his style traces back to the traditions of the Tang and Song dynasty masters Wu Daozi and Li Gonglin, and he was also gifted at the manners of the Five Dynasties painters of Buddhist arhats Guanxiu and Zhang Xuan, creating a style of his own. The drapery lines in Ding Yunpeng's early works are round and refined, being compared to floating clouds and flowing water. Complemented by light and refined colors, every detail of his delicate works is full of expression and character. After the mid-1590s, Ding's style underwent a change as his brushwork became looser with lines more abbreviated and vigorous. His forms, along with coarse brushwork and dark ink, became exaggerated and the rendering increasingly eccentric. This transformational painting style, in which he chose "the awkward over the clever and the ugly over the enchanting," became a new pioneering manner in the waning of figure and religious painting in the late Ming dynasty.

This exhibition features representative examples of landscape and Buddhist painting by Ding Yunpeng from various periods over his career, providing a complete overview of the development of his transformational painting style and the diversity of his forms of expression.