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The Essence of Nature: 16th - 18th Century Chinese Paintings From the Matthew Edlund Collection

The Essence of Nature,  2004.

The Essence of Nature, 2004.

This exhibition is sponsored by Charles H. and Dorothy Jenkins and Mark and Lynn Hollis.

The extraordinary paintings in this exhibition come from the collection of Dr. Matthew Edlund of Sarasota. Dr. Edlund has amassed a collection that includes a large number of hanging scrolls, hand scrolls, albums of calligraphy and paintings, and other Asian objects such as sculptures and ceramics. Some of the most important works in his collection are these paintings, which range in date from the early 16th century to the late 18th century, an era that brought much to change to art and life in China.

The Ming dynasty began in the year 1368, after a revolution returned the rule of China back to the Chinese from the Mongols. We know much about the painting styles in China from the mid-15th century onward thanks in great part to the rise of art criticism, particularly those who began writing in the late 16th century. The imperial court supported the arts well during much of the 15th and early 16th centuries, bestowing upon artists honorary titles to keep them close to the emperor.

This flourishing of the arts led to an increase in collecting art by middle-class merchants. Likewise, this increased demand spawned the development of numerous schools outside of the court, including the Zhe School, an artist from which produced the painting Men on Boat with Twinned Pine Trees in this exhibition. Many of the artists of the Zhe School came from humble beginnings and painted with extraordinary passion.

The Qing dynasty was established by the Manchus in 1644. The overthrow of the Ming was violent as the Manchus swept in from the northeast. However, they were great art patrons, leading to the expansion of regional schools of art. This patronage notwithstanding, many artists in the mid to late 17th century created paintings that expressed a longing for the past. Paintings in this exhibition that feature a sense of nostalgia include Autumn Evening Moon over Lake Dongting, Peach Blossom Spring, and Sea Battle.

Also included in this exhibition are a scroll and a book of calligraphy. In China, there is a long historical connection between calligraphy and painting. Chinese characters had their origins as pictures that grew more and more abstract. You can see the similarity in brushstrokes by comparing the calligraphy with the painting of the Eagle or Hawk.