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Painting in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.)

History Overview

The Ming Dynasty came to an end in 1644 and was replaced by the Manchurians from the north. The Qing, meaning pure, assimilated the Chinese culture and art and would rule over China for nearly three hundred years.

As the Qin rulers discovered, one cannot rule a people without adopting its culture and customs. The Qin invaders soon became acculturated with Chinese language, poetry, art and literature. The second Qing emperor, Kangxi, 1662-1772, a patron of the arts and literature, recruited top scholars to work for the imperial service. Succeeding Kangxi was his grandson, Qianlong (1736-1795), who was also a capable and intellectual ruler, and whose benevolent rule gave rise to high level of scholarship. During Qianlong's reign, which was considered to be the golden age of Qin rule, the economy expanded, the population exploded and China prospered under Heaven. In the first half of Qin rule, China prospered economically and politically; however in the later half, Qin rule was in the state of decline.

Various rebellious elements surfaced in the 19th century. A prime example was the Opium Wars of 1840 to 1842, which saw humiliating defeat of the Chinese at the hands of the British. The Chinese was forced to make huge concessions (cession of Hong Kong to Britain, fixed tariffs and among other indemnities) to the British. This humiliating defeat lead to the Taiping rebellion of 1851-1864. Further concessions were made to foreigners during the Arrow War of 1856-1860. With multiple foreign interests seizing parts of China, and huge indemnities to foreigners, soon lead to the collapse of the once mighty economy of Asia. In 1900, anti-Christian and anti-foreign fuelled the Boxer Rebellion, which was quickly crushed by the Empress Dowager, Cixi with the aid of foreign forces. With her death in 1908, and successive natural disasters finally hastened the demise of the Qin. On February 12, 1912, Puyi, infant emperor abdicated the throne, the last emperor to rule China.

Art History

This era would represent the third and final chapter in the history of Chinese Brush Painting. The first phase which lasted until the 11th century had been predominantly a professional tradition, made up of various schools preserving a certain uniformity of style and attitude, from which individual deviations were relatively minor. The second phase was in the late Song era, with the creation of the literati school; thus began a period of schism between the professional court artists and the scholar-individualistic artists.

By the end of the 17th century, the professional school was stagnant, devoid of any new innovations and imagination. The literati tradition, on the other hand, had split into different branches: orthodox versus individualism, imitation versus innovation.

The painters of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) took painting as a vehicle to express their interests and feelings. They painted with a vigorous boldness, caring little for meticulous refinement. Gradually, Chinese painting became artistically 'perfect' during the Qing Dynasty.

Art and culture in China prospered under Qing rule during the benevolent reigns of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1772) and his grandson, Qianlong emperor (1736-1795). The Qing court continued to support the imperial academic painters, however, the literati artists were the dominant force of the period. The orthordox literati school continued the tradition of the Yuan dynasty, while the literati individualist painters developed new style that was a departure from past masters. The individualist painters chose to live in recluse, close to nature as opposed to the orthodox painters who either lived at home or accepted positions a the court.

Dao Ji (1642-1707), a famous indidualist painter, illustrated a fourth century poem that recounted a story of a fisherman's discovery of an unspoiled paradise: "The Peach Blossom Spring". After Dao Ji, there were other well-known individualist painters, the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, developed their own styles of painting.

As Western ideology, philosophy and art were introduced into China, many Chinese artists drew inspirations from the west. Western painting techniques were gradually incorporated into Chinese paintings: use of brilliant colour, creation of depth and perspective.

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