“Yellow Mountain: China’s Ever-Changing Landscape” Opens May 31 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Yellow Mountain, also known as Mt. Huang or Huangshan, is one of the most beautiful locations in China. With its magnificent peaks, some soaring thousands of feet, the mountain holds as much allure to artists today as it did in the early 17th century, when the great traveler and geologist Xu Xiake (1587-1641) toured its peaks twice and recorded the journeys in his diary. Woodblock prints, including a set of 43 illustrations created by the monk painter Xuezhuang (ca. 1646-1719), further popularized the image of Yellow Mountain.
“Yellow Mountain: China’s Ever-Changing Landscape,” on view May 31 through Aug. 24 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, presents 10 leaves from the very important album of artist Xuezhuang, who fled to the mountain for political sanctuary after the fall of the Ming dynasty.
In addition to woodblock prints and album leaves, the exhibition features a number of magnificent hanging scrolls and an impressive handscroll, measuring nearly 20 feet in length, that will hang in the exhibition’s opening gallery. The handscroll, dated 1704, offers a panoramic view of the mountain that allows visitors to virtually travel from peak to peak and valley to valley.
While many of the exhibition’s prints and paintings present an overall view of the mountain’s ever-changing landscape, others provide up-close observations of particular topographical features, such as individual spires, monastic cottages and twisted pine trees. One such painting by monk painter Hongren (1610-1664) depicts a single pine tree perched precariously atop a mountain peak while bending awkwardly toward the ground.
Around 1646, young scholar Jiang Tao became a Zen monk and took the religious name of Hongren. He developed a unique style of landscape depiction and is considered one of the most important individualistic artists of the 17th century. Hongren traveled extensively in southern China, but the location that most captured his imagination was the isolated Yellow Mountain range in his native Anhui Province. With their bare granite peaks and deeply fissured cliffs, the Yellow Mountains became an emotional sanctuary for him. The distinctive rock contours rendered with sharp, angular brushstrokes and the repetitive use of overlapping rectilinear forms are typical of Hongren’s style, which is particularly suited to describing the terrain of the Yellow Mountains.
While Hongren has remained a familiar name in Chinese painting circles, little is known of Xuezhuang. Various poems and written accounts indicate that he spent some time in Nanjing in the 1670s and then migrated to Cuiluoshan (also known as Caishishan) in Dangtu, Anhui province, where he stayed for five years before moving to Yellow Mountain in 1689. He settled in an area of the mountain called Pipeng, where a single opening allows clouds to rush in between the peaks creating what the artist described as “a sea of clouds” and reflected in a painting entitled “Cloudy Boat in the Yellow Ocean.” It was painted for a friend, Cheng Ting (1672-1727), who visited the monk in spring 1718. An inscription in the upper right-hand corner of the canvas explains that the painting was a token of thanks for the visit.
Joseph Chang, associate curator of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is the curator of “Yellow Mountain: China’s Ever-Changing Landscape.”
“Yellow Mountain” is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and has received support from John and Julia Curtis; Mr. and Mrs. Michael E. Feng; Shirley Z. Johnson and Charles Rumph; Constance Corcoran Miller; and Mr. H.C. Luce and Ms. Tina Liu.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events, the public is welcome to visit www.asia.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.
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