More than 100 Chinese landscape and flower-and-bird paintings by the Guangdong master Li Yanshan will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (June 10) to October 16. The public can take this opportunity to appreciate Li's masterpieces and learn about his profound influence on the Guangdong and Hong Kong art scenes and on art education as well.
Entitled "A Passion for Tradition: The Art of Li Yanshan", the exhibition was officially opened today (June 9) by the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mrs Betty Fung; a representative of Li Yanshan's family, Dr Lee Fung-fung; the Chairperson of the Annie Wong Art Foundation, Dr Annie Wong; and the Chief Curator of the Museum of Art, Mr Tang Hoi-chiu.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition, Mrs Fung noted that Li had vowed to preserve traditional art during his lifetime. He studied the works of ancient masters during his half-century-long artistic career. With great fortitude, he incorporated traditional painting into his artworks and promoted it to the general public with a new presentation method.
"Not only did Li's creations foster the legacy of traditional art, but his knowledge in art and connoisseurship also contributed to the collecting community and preservation of cultural heritage in Guangdong and Hong Kong," Mrs Fung said.
"This year being the 50th anniversary of Li's passing, the Museum of Art thus takes this opportunity to pay tribute to this great man and artist with this exhibition. It is hoped that the artworks on display will enable the public to witness the painter's vision of and commitment to traditional art at a time of deprivations."
Li Yanshan (1898-1961) spent his formative years in Guangdong, the cradle of Chinese democratic revolutions in the 20th century. Born to a prestigious family, he was sent to Guangzhou to receive a modern education and then to Peking University to study law. While in Beijing, he was witness to the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a major event in modern Chinese history. The milieu was such that a budding painter like Li could easily have turned into a radical painter like Xu Beihong or Liu Haisu, or at the very least an eclectic one like Gao Jianfu. Quite unexpectedly, he soon fell head over and heels in love with the great tradition and pledged lifelong allegiance to traditional painting.
In 1925, Li returned to Guangdong to join the judiciary while participating actively in the Chinese Painting Research Society, the largest art body in southern China. Working together with likeminded people such as his painting teacher Pan He and other leading traditionalist painters including Huang Shaomei and Yao Lixiu, as well as young and upcoming artists like Zhao Haogong, Huang Bore, Deng Fen, Huang Junbi and others, Li devoted himself to the promotion of traditional painting through exhibitions, publishing painting magazines and giving public demonstrations. These exposures and experiences gave him a solid foundation in painting real landscapes with assimilated ancient methods.
In 1932, Li was appointed president of the Guangzhou Municipal College of Fine Arts. With the development of the Chinese painting department most on his mind, he immediately set about strengthening its faculty with pre-eminent painters who were members of the Chinese Painting Research Society. This was followed by the setting up of an offshoot of the Society at the college and the publication of the college magazine "Art". His commitment to a painting education that is pragmatic and holistic paid off and the College enjoyed its golden years until Li's resignation in 1936. When the Anti-Japanese War broke out the following year, he left Guangzhou and drifted from place to place in Hong Kong and Macau. He returned to Guangzhou in 1943 but went back to Hong Kong again in 1948 and stayed there owing to political upheaval at home.
Li was able to become acquainted with famous collectors like Lei Junshi, Lu Xuanzhong and Wu Ming during his time in Hong Kong and Macau. In the early 1950s, he even had the opportunity to cross paths with many other renowned collectors, the most notable being Zhang Daqian, the master of Dafeng Tang, and Chen Rentao, the master of the Golden Chest Studio collection, giving him a chance to view national masterpieces. Taking advantage of these encounters, Li began to systematically copy masterpieces from down the ages and produced or reproduced "Copy After Dong Yuan's Mountains and Streams After Snow", “Copy After Juran's Landscape in Twilight", "Copy After Huang Gongwang's Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains", "Copy After Wu Zhen's The Glow of Autumnal Dales", "Landscape in the Style of Hongren", "Copy After Shitao's Visiting Dai Benxiao in Tiaotiao Valley", and "Copy After Bada Shanren's Album Leaves of Landscape, Flower and Bird". In so doing, Li hoped to probe the spiritual world of the ancient masters in order to be one with them.
From the 1950s onwards, Li led a more or less reclusive life. In his friends' eyes, so resolved was he to emulate the ancients that he seemed to be a hermit straight from the past. The hermit in the painter can be felt most strongly from his late-year works. Although living in a hustling and bustling city, he was drawn toward the landscape of a bygone world. Yet his yearnings for the past were not so much about art as about life.
To tie in with the exhibition, artist Hung Hoi has been invited to give art demonstrations on September 21 and 28 from 2.30pm to 4.30pm at the museum. The demonstrations, in Cantonese, will be free of charge and 50 seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm daily and from 10am to 8pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For further information, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at http://hk.art.museum.
Ends/Thursday, June 9, 2011
Li Yanshan painstakingly copied many ancient masterpieces and reinvented their merits in his own works. His strikingly convincing reproduction of the original flowing grace in the "Copy After Huang Gongwang's Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains" (section) shows Huang's influences on Li's landscapes.
The painting "Cloud-girdled Peak", which Li Yanshan created in 1947 in Guangzhou, exemplifies Li's attempts in emulating the Song masters with awe-inspiring compositions.
Bamboo was the lifelong love of Li Yanshan. He approached bamboo painting in light of the history of the genre and with reference to available masterpieces. His repertoire covered not only ink bamboo paintings but also outlined ones in colour. The picture shows his "Bamboo and Rocks".
Created in 1946, the painting "A Land Untarnished" (section) shows Li Yanshan's jubilation at the restoration of peace and reunion with his family after the war. The work is also a celebration of his mastery of brush and ink after years honing his skills.
The opening ceremony of the "A Passion for Tradition: The Art of Li Yanshan" exhibition was held today (June 9) at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. The picture shows the officiating guests cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony. They are (from left) the Chief Curator of the Museum of Art, Mr Tang Hoi-chiu; a representative of Li Yanshan's family, Dr Lee Fung-fung; the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mrs Betty Fung; and the Chairperson of the Annie Wong Art Foundation, Dr Annie Wong.
Officiating guests view the exhibition.
Officiating guests view the exhibition.