Six centuries of Chinese paintings

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Report of the visit of Eric Lefebvre, Curator at the Cernuschi Museum on the current exhibition: Six centuries of Chinese paintings, restored works of the Cernuschi Museum.

Eric Lefebvre recalls, in preamble, that if the museum's pictorial collection dates from 1873 with the collection of works bought by Henri Cernuschi during his trip to Asia, the fame of the collection was rather due to the acquisitions and many donations of paintings of the second half of the 20th century. In recent years, this ensemble has been enriched by works by major artists of the Ming and Qing dynasties thanks to the support of the Society of Friends of the Cernuschi Museum and the CCC as well as donations.
A restoration campaign covering the last fifteen years will reveal Henri Cernuschi's collection, a unique testimony to the eyes of the first European collectors of Chinese painting. These restorations were essential because many of the paintings were in a critical state (western winding that tires support, poor storage conditions and water damage).

THE MING (1368-1644)

Le falcon Anonymous (cat.1) perched alone on a rock, evokes the majesty and power of the sovereign and participated in a vast cultural policy plan. This work probably dates from the fourteenth century. This academic painting is reminiscent of the style created under Emperor Huizong (1101-1125).
La calligraphy (cat.2) Zhang Bi, man of letters, poet and calligrapher (1425-1487), illustrates the crazy cursive style inspired by the past but transcended by the master. The rhythm is marked by large brush strokes of different thicknesses and the large characters give the whole a monumentality of its own.
The Immortals (cat.3) Zhang Lu (1490-1563) are represented in a style removed, very characteristic of the way of this painter while the Immortals (Cat.4) Gao Gu painted in 1547 testify to a more academic style, very fashionable at court, inspired by the painters of the Southern Song Academy.

39228-16 - MC 2007-5 - © Musée Cernuschi / Roger-Viollet
Wen Boren (1502-1575). "The meeting at the orchid pavilion"
Ink and colors on a gold background (paper), fan format
Paris, Cernuschi Museum.

The following set of fans could not have been acquired without the help of Friends and the CCC
Those of Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), major figure of the calligraphy and painting of the Ming period, illustrate the multiplicity of genres addressed by this teacher of the Wu school. calligraphy (cat.7) testifies to the contained virtuosity that characterizes the semi-cursive writing of maturity whereas the range the cliff Red (cat.10) combines calligraphy in a small regular with a landscape treated with meticulousness but with a great simplicity, in the antique taste.
The range Meeting at the Orchid Pavilion (cat.12) illustrates a poem by Wang Xizhi (303-361) that evokes a poetic jousting on the occasion of the feast of purification. This theme of the literary meeting was a great success under the Song but Wen Zhengming renews the composition by giving more space to the landscape. The range Meeting at the Orchid Pavilion (cat.13) Wen Boren (1502-1575) nephew of the previous, who contributed to the transmission of the style of his uncle, although inspired by the work of the latter, shows a more picturesque and a more detailed description characters.
The range Orchid (cat.14) Chen Yuansu (early seventeenth century) illustrates a genre that was the specialty of this painter and calligrapher. In the opinion of his contemporaries, Chen Yuansu's orchids combined Wen Zhengming's elegance with a personal strength.
The range Landscape (cat.15) of Dong Qichang (1555-1636), great admirer of the masters of the past, shows a synthesis of different styles (Juran, Mi Fu) but also a great mastery of color.

THE QING (1644-1911)

The range Landscape (cat.19) Yun Shouping (1633-1690) with its clean bill evokes the sober style of some creations of the Yuan Dynasty.

39235-2 - MC 2008-4 - © Musée Cernuschi / Roger-Viollet
Qian Du (1763-1844).
"Snowy Landscape" (detail), 1818
Ink on paper
Paris, Cernuschi Museum.

The big official painting The Hanlin Academy (cat.23) is the work of six painters, all members of the Imperial Academy of Painting. It commemorates the banquet given by Emperor Qianlong in 1744 on the occasion of the renovation of the academy. The various moments of the ceremony are evoked from the journey from the forbidden city, the banquet accompanied by music, the theatrical performance, the poetic jousting (the poems are transcribed in different parts of the composition), until the the Emperor retired to a pavilion to compose four poems, which explains his absence. This work is a major testimony to this institution that was destroyed in 1900 during the boxer war.
The vertical roller, Snow landscape (cat.33) by Qian Du (1763-1844), offers a bold vertical composition punctuated by the low pinewood and the silhouette of the snowy mountains at the top. The poem extends the painting by evoking what escapes the pictorial domain: the heat of the stove, the smell of cooked vegetables, the crash of the wind in the branches.
Solitary under the pines gazing at the waves (cat.32), by Zhang Yin (1761-1829,) is inspired by the art of the Northern Song, but here the painter has substituted the pile of waves at the mountain peaks. In addition, the use of polychromy intensifies the sense of serenity of the summit where the little character stands in opposition to the fury of the river.
The following room shows a collection of works purchased by H. Cernuschi that seems to have had more interest in the representations of characters.
Zhong Kui (cat.26) by Dong Xu (early 18th century). Here, the demon hunter has a more truculent than frightening aspect, as opposed to Zhong Kui (cat 27) Li Shizhuo (1690-1770) to the threatening figure. The latter is achieved by combining the use of brush and fingers.
Another work done with the finger, Painting of the thousand autumns (cat.25) by Gao Qipei (1672-1734) where a pair of deer, pines, bats and immortality fungi are represented. This set of symbols visually synthesizes vows (longevity, happiness and emoluments) that can be addressed on the occasion of an anniversary. The painter superimposes the color on inked surfaces and for this kind of painting uses a particular, thicker paper.
The nymph of the river Luo (cat 28) by Fu Wen (active from 1744 to 1765) has also been performed on the finger but taking a classic composition and infusing it with new energy.


The beautiful calligraphy The cliff Red

(cat 38) by Kang Youwei (1858-1927) refers to the very ancient models of steles from the Han or Northern Wei periods. The writing derived from the style of the scribes is treated, here, in cursive chancery which gives it strength and flexibility. In comparison, Parallel Sentences (cat.39) by Yao Hua (1876-1930) are treated in the sigillary style reminiscent of the graphs on the antique bronze vases and the earliest stone inscriptions.
The magpie (45 cat.) by Qi Baishi (1864-1957) who did this work at an advanced age, is particularly expressive. This bird has almost always a beneficial meaning (game of homophonies) as the poem emphasizes. The four paintings (cat 43) Little chicks, Fish, Reeds et Collared Raven were realized in the foury-seventh year of Qi Baishi and show the originality of his compositions, the energy of the brush and a touch of humor.
After the rain (cat 45) by Ding Yanyong (1902-1978) with its red banana flower in the center of the composition reminds us that this painter, having studied in Japan, was influenced by the then fashionable "Fauvism". The funny treatment of frogs at the bottom of the leaf is reminiscent of Qi Baishi.
Wild geese (Cat.50) Plum trees in bloom (cat 51) by Chen Zhifo (1896-1962), and Two green birds on a magnolia (cat 52), peonies (cat.53.1) of Yu Fei'an (1889-1959) illustrate the return to tradition of paintings of flowers and birds dear to Emperor Song Huizong. However, artists of the twentieth century treat the color in a more modern way.


The Japanese offensive in 1937 caused an exodus of artists to the Southwest provinces and they would discover the non-Han populations of these regions.

38780-4 - MC 08663 - © Musée Cernuschi / Roger-Viollet
Fu Baoshi (1904-1965). "Dreamer", circa 1940-1945
Ink and colors on paper
Paris, Cernuschi Museum.

Tea history (cat. 86) by Wu Zuoren (1909-1997) traces the journey of tea from China to the edge of the highlands on a horizontal roller. This pictorial narration plays with groups of characters dressed in bright colors and the white of the paper that evokes huge spaces creating a perspective effect.
Solitary contemplating a landscape (cat 54) or Hut at the lake (cat 56) by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) refers to the masters of the past. This great artist, in exile from 1949, was a remarkable copyist (and a genius counterfeiter) but reinvented the landscape art of the Song era. Lotus under the wind (62 cat.), 1956's gift of the artist, demonstrates a remarkable mastery of ink work and brush control. The contrast between the black of the leaves and the whiteness of the flowers creates an effect of great brightness.
Storm (67) by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) testifies to his stay in Sichuan by the monumental character of the mountain ranges. The treatment of rain with long jets of water projected on the ink is one of the innovations of the artist. The Painter at his desk (cat 71), although evoking the painter Shao Mi, could be considered as a disguised self-portrait: the face of the painter who expresses a certain lassitude would reflect the state of mind of Fu Baoshi.


From the 1920 years, more and more Chinese students came to Paris where they acquired the Western techniques that were to influence them later.
The study of the nude is totally foreign to the Chinese spirit and the artists will transpose the subject by treating it with Chinese techniques. Those who will return to China to teach in academies will bring this taste for the study of living models.
The Landscapes (Cat.81 and cat 81.1) framing a Pieta Lin Fengmian (223-1900) translates the years of war with their dark atmosphere.
Le Horses Xu Beihong's 80 (1895-1953) takes up the tradition of horse painting but instills a vigor and movement that reflects a Western influence.

A film, projected in the conference room, is dedicated to the rescue of a damaged painting and makes it possible to take the measure of the works of restoration which make it possible to revive a work of art.


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