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A rare exhibition of Chinese painting in Manhattan is drawing acclaim for its extraordinary beauty and important masterpieces. The landmark show Flowers on a River: The Art of Chinese Flower-and-Bird Painting, 1368-1911, Masterworks from Tianjin Museum and Changzhou Museum is on view at China Institute Gallery — renowned for its world-class thematic exhibitions of exceptional Chinese treasures. The exhibition is the largest survey of its kind to be seen outside of China and the first in the US.

On view through June 25, Flowers on a River features more than 100 masterworks by 59 artists, spanning 500 years across the Ming and Qing dynasties. The groundbreaking exhibition highlights the academic, literary, and individual styles of each artist. The Chinese concept of “humanity in harmony with nature” is examined as is the use of a special language of coded imagery to communicate meaning, which is central to Chinese art and culture. Flower-and-bird painting is one of three major genres of Chinese painting, alongside landscape and figure painting.

Wang Caiping (?–1893), “To Longevity,” round fan mounted as album leaf; ink and color on paper, diameter: 10 1/4 inches (collection of Changzhou Museum)

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the handscroll “Flowers on a River” (1697) by the pre-eminent master painter of 17th-century China, Zhu Da (1626-1705), also known as Bada Shanren. An imperial family member of the Ming dynasty, this handscroll is his most important work, as well as the most renowned masterpiece in the history of Chinese flower-and-bird painting. The work showcases his unconventional composition and remarkable freehand brushwork, imbued with abstract and conceptual elements. Complemented by his unique poetry and calligraphy, the painting intertwines the imagery of lotus and orchid within a landscape setting, depicting the journey of the artist’s life. Through his poetic verses and calligraphic expressions, the handscroll delves into profound spiritual realms.

This exhibition also explores the natural world in the context of the human experience, revealing links that tie the genre’s imagery and the country’s everyday life and social customs. The Ming and Qing periods saw the rise of women artists who excelled in flower-and-bird painting. Flowers on a River includes work by eight women artists, featuring scrolls by two of the most acclaimed, Ma Quan and Yun Bing. Born into families of artists during the Qing dynasty, they rose to prominence through the legacies of their fathers and grandfathers and were celebrated as “the two absolute talents.”

Flowers on a River is on view through June 25, at China Institute Gallery located at 100 Washington Street (enter at 40 Rector Street) in New York City.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit chinainstitute.org.

Yun Bing, “Hundred Flowers,” handscroll; ink and color on silk, 12 3/8 × 554 7/8 inches (collection of Tianjin Museum)
Wu Changshuo (1844–1927), “Red Plum” (1924), hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, 61 × 33 1/8 inches (collection of Tianjin Museum)
Lu Zhi (1496–1576), “Pear Blossoms and Pair of Swallows,” hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, 38 7/8 × 22 7/8 inches (collection of Tianjin Museum)

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