Flowers on a River: The Art of Chinese Flower-and-Bird Painting 1368-1911

Zhu Da (1626–1705), Flowers on a River. 1697. Hand scroll; ink on paper, 19 × 508 7/8 in. (48.2 × 1292.5 cm).
Collection of the Tianjin Museum (detail)

On March 23, 2023 China Institute Gallery in New York is reopening to the public afer a renovation. The new exhibition in the galleries celebrates Chinese flower-and-bird paintings. On display are masterpieces of Chinese paintings that span over five centuries. The museum is the only in the United States to exclusively exhibit Chinese art, and this exhibition is the largest survey of its kind outside of China. The works are from Tianjin Museum and Changzhou Museum respectively.

Flowers on a River: The Art of Chinese Flower-and-Bird Painting 1368-1911, includes more than 100 masterworks from 59 artists. The works were created during a 500 year time period between the Ming and Qing dynasties. Not only the individual styles of the artists are highlighted in the exhibition, but it will also detail the academic and literati aspects of the works.

With these paintings we can escape to nature and imagine the natural world, which has inspired artists throughout centuries everywhere. The imagery of the paintings communicate a deeper meaning of art. In Chinese thinking, the humanity is resilient when it connects to the natural world, living in harmony with its diminuent details and magnificent forces.

Yun Lanxi (dates unknown) and Zou Yigui (1686-1772) Eight Immortals in the Flower World Album of 8 leaves; ink and color on paper 12 1/8 x 19 in. (30.8 x 25.2 cm) Tianjin Museum (Leaf 3)

“Flowers on a River will explore the natural world in the context of the human experience. revealing links that tie the genre’s imagery and the country’s everyday life and social customs.”

Traditional Chinese painting has landscape and figure at its center. The flower-and-bird motives are in their own category. The exhibition will be presented in three parts: Precious Plums of the Palace: Academics and Court Artists; Fragrant Plums in the Wild: The Literati Art, Painters and Painting Schools; and Vitality of Nature: Flower-and-Bird Painting and Social Customs.

What is really advanced curating in the context of this exhibition is the inclusion of so many women artists. The Ming and Qing periods saw the rise of women artists. They excelled in flower-and-bird painting. The exhibit will display works from eight women artists. Among others, there are scrolls by two of the most acclaimed, Ma Quan and Yun Bing. During Qing dynasty, they were noticed by their talent; and as was typical to those times, through the legacies of their fathers and grandfathers.

‘Flowers on a River’ is curated by Willow Weilan Hai, China Institute Gallery and guest co-curators Chen Zhuo, former Director of Tianjin Museum; Lin Jian, Director, Changzhou Museum; and David Ake Sensabaugh, former Ruth and Bruce Dayton Curator of Asian Art at Yale University Art Gallery. The exhibition is organized by the China Institute Gallery together with the Tianjin Museum and Changzhou Museum.

“We are enormously excited for the reopening of China Institute Gallery and are honored to present some of Chinese art’s greatest treasures.” – Willow Weilan Hai, Lead Curator of the exhibition, Director and Chief Curator, China Institute Gallery.

The 42-foot horizontal scroll by Zhu Da, one of the greatest artists in Chinese history, is taking the center stage. It is considered one of the masterpieces of Chinese painting. Zhu Da (1626-1705) is also commonly known as Bada Shanren. His large painting was last seen outside of China in the 2013 exhibition of Masterpieces of Chinese Painting at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

“Bada Shanren pushed the expressive possibilities of monochrome ink and brush to the extreme, resulting in incredibly rich effects with an unmistakable individual character,” -Willow Weilan Hai.

The exhibition is accompanied by illustrated bilingual catalogue featuring commissioned scholarly essays and detailed exhibition entries. China Institute Gallery is featuring a series of events including lectures, an international symposium, and other programs.

The artists in Flowers on a River include: Lin Liang, Lü Ji, Shen Quan, Hu Mei, Yuan Jiang, Yuan Yao, Gao Qipei, Jiang Tingxi, Qian Weicheng, Miao Jiahui, Chen Lu, Chen Hongshou, Ma Shouzhen, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin, Zhou Zhimian, Lu Zhi, Chen Chun, Wang Guxiang, Xu Wei, Xiang Shengmo, Zheng Xie, Jin Nong, Hua Yan, Li Shan, Huang Shen, Luo Pin, Gao Fenghan, Bian Shoumin, Shitao, Zhu Da, Yun Shouping, Tang Yuzhao, Ma Yuanyu, Ma Quan, Yun Bing, Yun Lanxi, Zou Yigui, Yun Guangye, Li Jue, Tang Shishu, Zhao Zhiqian, Pu Hua, Xugu, Ren Yi, Zhang Xiong, Wu Changshuo, Tang Luming, Zhu Cheng, Leng Mei, Chen Zun, Fan Qi, Wang Wu, Zhang Cining, Wang Caiping, Li Boyuan, Zhang Sheng, Sun Di, and Aisin-Gioro Yuying.

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