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Saturday, 7 December 2013

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900 @ V&A

I am officially on Christmas break! Finally! The last couple of weeks have been strange, because although i didn't have any classes, or costume work, I still had an essay to write. But after handing that in yesterday morning, my first term of second year at LCF was completely finished. And that meant I was free to get started on my super long list of exhibitions that I need to see this month! So many fantastic things are on in London this December!

First off, the V&A. I've been neglecting my membership recently so yesterday was the perfect opportunity to have a look at the wonderful exhibitions they are running - 'Chinese Painting' and 'Pearls'. In this post, i'll share my favourite pieces from 'Chinese Painting', and i'll write about 'Pearls' at a later date...

V&A hosts a wonderfully varied programme of large-scale exhibitions, which is great. I had never encountered Chinese painting before and since working with Meg Andrews, an antique textile dealer with an interest in Chinese textiles, I have been keen to discover the world of art outside Western culture. I've realised recently how close-minded we often are in the Western world when it comes to costume history - there is so much more out there to be discovered! It is not all about corsets and petticoats!!!

'Masterpieces of Chinese Painting' opens with an introduction to the technique, with a video demonstration. Two brushes are used at the same time, to create colour washes over a black ink outline. The colour is built up layer by layer until the right tone is achieved. Then everything is outlined again and any details added.

'Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk' 1101-25, attributed to Emperor Huizong (MFA, Boston):




I really like the really thin ink outline that is used here - and all the detail put into recreating the dazzlingly beautiful silk textile patterns. Interestingly, many aspects of Chinese painting point to silk painting originating from embroidery. The frame used to stretch silk closely resembles an embroidery frame, and both crafts are called 'hui' in Chinese.

"High-minded artists painted only when inspired, therefore their works are treasured during the succeeding generations."  - Tu Long, 1592

The vibrant colours of the costumes against a brown background is stunning. Incredible attention to detail was paid to depicting the valued costumes of court ladies and men, and in many examples in the exhibition, a landscape may be painted in greys and blacks, but the costumes will still be vibrantly coloured.

The delicate and crisp draping of the robes is also captured in detail by each artist. The highlighting of dress in a scene serves to tell the viewer about the characters, but also show off the skill of the painter!

Detail of 'Court Ladies in the Inner Palace' by Du Jin (1465-1509):


The delicate and crisp draping of the robes is captured in detail by each artist. Dress is often given prominence in a scene, telling the viewer about the characters and also about the skill of the painter.

I would really recommend this exhibition to anyone looking for an introduction to Chinese painting, and a very particular style of illustration. It has definitely inspired me to do more drawing, especially observational drawings of new types of costume.

'Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700–1900' runs until 19 January 2014 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. For more information, click here.

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