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Palace Museum Exhibition Table of Contents

Treasures of Painting and Calligraphy Acquired by the Palace Museum over the Last 50 Years


Fu Dongguang
Department of Calligraphy and Painting
Palace Museum


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In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the People's Republic of China, the Palace Museum formally opened the "Grand Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years" on 8 October 1999. Another portion entitled "Treasures of Calligraphy and Painting from Past Dynasties" was installed in the west wing of Bao He Dian (Hall of Preserving Harmony). The latter contained 100 works of calligraphy, rubbings, and paintings -- a magnificient view of the finest works in the collection, all acquired by the Palace Museum after the founding of the New China in 1949. It should be pointed out that the whereabouts of many of the treasures in the exhibition were previously unknown, scattered all over China. After undergoing calamitous upheavals and drifting from place to place, these works ultimately returned to the Palace Museum, repository of Chinese cultural and artistic heritage, where these works were stored intact, thus enabling the world and posterity to view their superb artistic and historical value.

The Palace Museum holdings of calligraphy and painting rests on the foundation of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) imperial collections. The fondness and interest for antiquities cultivated by past emperors culminated in the accumulation of a great number of art objects in the palace. During the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736-1796), the imperial household collected several tens of thousands of works of calligraphy and famous paintings from past dynasties, including the Eastern Jin (317-420), the Tang (618-907), the Song (960- 1279), and the Yuan (1260-1368). These works were gathered up until practically none were left outside the imperial purview � at one point a most magnificent collection.

However, following the decline and fall of the Qing dynasty, after the chaos and ravages of several wars, many of these works were plundered by foreign powers and taken abroad, and others were stolen away and dispersed among the populace by the last Qing emperor, Puyi (1906-1967) [see "New Discoveries of Calligraphy and Painting. . ." in this issue on the re-emergence of several of these works]. By the time the Palace Museum was established in 1925, early inventories showed that fewer than 7000 pieces remained in the palace. In 1948, when the KMT government moved south, more than 1000 precious paintings were among the cultural relics transported to Taiwan. In fact, more than 5000 works of painting and calligraphy, many of which predate the Yuan dynasty, were removed from the Palace Museum.

After the founding of New China, the government has attached great importance to Palace Museum acquisitions. In 1958, Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976) entrusted the CCP Central Office to transfer to the Palace Museum the work of calligraphy On the Balcony by the great Tang poet Li Bai (701-762), originally given as a gift by Zhang Boju (1897-1982, formerly of the Palace Museum, later director of the Jilin Provincial Museum). Among the works from the Qianlong emperor's "Hall of Three Wishes" are: the only remaining authentic copy of the exemplary work of Eastern Jin calligraphy, Baiyuan Letter by Wang Xun (350-401); the only extant copy of Five Oxen by the Tang master painter Han Huang (723-787); and the representative ink-and-wash painting The Xiao and Xiang Rivers by Dong Yuan (d. 926), founder of the Jiangnan School during the Five Dynasties period (907-960). All of these works were bought back from Hong Kong at great expense to the State according to the personal instructions of Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976). Throughout the 1950s, the State Cultural Relics Bureau continually transferred works -- amassed through inspections, sorting, and donation -- back to the Palace Museum.

Patriotic collectors, both here and abroad, continued one after the other in generously donating their own beloved collections, among these: Lu Ji's (261-303) Recovery from Illness, the earliest extant calligraphic model, handed down over a thousand years from the Western Jin (265- 316); the figure painting Traveling by Hand-Carried Litter by the Tang painter Yan Liben (d. 673), which depicts the Tang emperor Taizong (r. 627-650) receiving the Tubo emissary Lu Dongzan; the Yuan painter Zhao Mengfu's (1254-1322) figure-and-horse painting masterpiece Horses Bathing; the large Ming dynasty freehand ink-and-wash Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons by Xu Wei (1521-1593); and other well-known works donated by (or by the families of) Zhang Boju, the former Peking University professor Zheng Youmin (1892-1973), and Liu Jiu'an (1915-1999) of the Palace Museum Department of Calligraphy and Painting.

In the 1990s, the auctions that sprung up year after year also became a new source for paintings in the Palace Museum collection. Such was the case with the Song painter Zhang Xian's (990-1078) Ten Odes, formerly of the old Qing imperial collection, regained by the Palace Museum from the Hanhai Auction Company in 1995 for a final price of RMB18 million.

It is precisely these limited measures that have allowed the Palace Museum collection to become richer and more complete day by day. Currently, the Palace Museum holdings of calligraphy and painting already surpasses 120,000 pieces. On the one hand, this exhibition displays the outstanding achievements and accomplishments of the Palace Museum's efforts over the last 50 years to collect calligraphy and painting. On the other hand, it also clearly reveals and commemorates the donors from all walks of society who have selflessly contributed to the development of the Palace Museum.


See a selection of works from the concurrent Palace Museum exhibition, "Grand Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years."

Purchase the dual exhibition catalogue Selected Gems of Cultural Relics--newly collected in the Palace Museum in the last fifty years.




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On the State of the Field
Scholarship in the History of Ancient Painting in the 1990s

by Xue Yongnian

Puyi's Legacy
New Discoveries of Calligraphy and Painting from the Palace Museum's "List of Lost Works"
by Liu Jianlong

A Record-Breaking Purchase by the Palace Museum

Zhang Xian's Ten Odes
by Yang Lili

Zhang Xian's Ten Odes: Counterpoint

On the Inauthenticity of Ten Odes by Zhang Xian of the Northern Song Dynasty
by Wu Gan


Select Bibliography on Chinese Painting



Palace Museum Exhibition
"Treasures of Painting and Calligraphy Acquired by the Palace Museum over the Last 50 Years"
by Fu Dongguang

Palace Museum Exhibition
"Grand Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years"

Palace Museum Symposium
Academic Symposium Accompanying the
"Grand Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years" at the Palace Museum
by Wang Qi

Shanghai Museum
The Shanghai Museum Holds A Symposium on Its Exhibition of Masterpieces
by Xue Yongnian

Liaoning Provincial Museum
An Assembly of Masterpieces, Presented in Radiant Splendor: Record of the "Exhibition of Treasures from the Ten Great Archaeological Discoveries in Liaoning"
by Ma Cheng

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Three Eastern Han Tombs with Wall Paintings at Otog
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"Appreciation and Analysis of the Murals Unearthed from a Song Tomb at Wang Shang Village in Dengfeng, Henan Province
by Zhang Songlin and Zhang Deshui



"A Breakthrough in the Interpretation of the 'Stone Carvings' at Junshan"
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"Animal Designs and Chinese Script on the 'Five Stars of the East Favor the Central Kingdom' Brocade"
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Extracts from China Archaeology and Art Digest 3:2/3 (January 2000): Painting and Pictorial Arts
Ding Xiyuan on Quehua qiuse tu
Hao Junhong on Ma Shouzhen
Shan Guoqiang on "Haipai"
Yu Hui on Yuan court artists



Macao Art Museum
"The Efflorescence of a Prosperous Age: Fine Works of Qing Dynasty Painting and Objects of the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong Reigns in the Collection of the Palace Museum"


National Gallery, Washington, DC

"The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from the People's Republic of China"
by Andrew K. Y. Leung



The Qingming shanghe Scroll and Qingming shanghe Studies
by Wang Qi

On Qingming shanghe Studies
by Nie Chongzheng

Chai Zejun: Collected Works on Ancient Architecture

Fifty Years of Archaeology in New China

Back Issues

Volume 1, Issue 1
(October 1999)

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