17 January 2014

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting at the V&A

It was a late decision to go and see Masterpieces of Chinese Painting and I got there with just a couple of days to spare, and had to finish work promptly on a Friday afternoon to do so. It was the constant stream of positive comments on Twitter that forced my hand.

The exhibition had all the usual V&A hallmarks of interesting items laid out in carefully each with enough annotation to inform but not too much to bore.

The exhibition was sold out for almost all of its run. And it showed. It was busy all the way round and I had to queue for some of the displays. This was not helped by there being several long scrolls on show that could only sensibly be viewed right-to-left which meant that we all had to flow in the same direction and had to stick close to the display to see all of it.

The paintings were much as I expected (and hoped) with lots of exotic costumes, magical landscapes and dragons. The subjects of the paintings were as much interest as the techniques and materials used to produce them.

Also as usual at the V&A the rules said no photographs and as usual I kept to them but a few people did not. So these pictures have all been borrowed from the V&A site. That limited my choice somewhat but I did find a few that I both liked a lot and which, I feel, give an honest feel for what the exhibition was like.

Here I have fallen for the crisp white storks performing the aerobatics against a bold blue sky while a typical building just about manages to peak above the clouds.

I found these dragons irresistible.It is a detail from a long scroll called Nine Dragons(you can guess why).

Like most of the painting in the exhibition is was seriously old. In this case it dated from1244 and there were paintings there much older than that.

The red stamp is a personal mark of a creator, owner, curator or somebody else with an official interest in the painting. On a picture this size there were thirty or forty of them, all carefully placed so as not to disturb the picture.

My final choice is the most typical. This green/blue style was very popular in several periods.

The composition was also very typical with the picture dominated by the landscape of hills and water and with the action confined to small figures.

The combination of the quantity and quality of the exhibits and the busyness meant that it took me two and a half hours to get around, and that was taking the last small room at some speed. By my own highly scientific measure of an exhibition, anything approaching two hours means that there was plenty to see so this was most definitely a very good exhibition.

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