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Exemplars of Virtue and Wisdom in Chinese Painting Explored at Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition Dates: May 10 through September 1, 2002

PRINCETON NJ -- Images of Buddhist immortals, Daoist deities, and Confucian sages are explored in a research exhibition that focuses on fourteen hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and albums in the Princeton University Art Museum's permanent collection. "Immortals, Deities, and Sages in Chinese Painting: A Research Exhibition" is on view at the museum from May 10 through September 1, 2002. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to examine examples of Chinese figure painting not often seen in museum or private collections.

"The art of ancient tombs and palaces often depicts exemplars of moral virtue, powerful deities, and sages who were believed to be models of good behavior for family descendants, or to embody the activities or needs of the deceased in the afterlife," writes Cary Y. Liu, associate curator of Asian art, in the introduction to the exhibition. Such images have been found in ancestral shrines and burials from as early as the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220).

These figures gained popularity through legends and apocryphal tales, and in later periods were constantly redefined and represented in religious beliefs, literature, and artistic works. In this context, stylistic boundaries in figure painting between mortal and immortal, and natural and supernatural, were never clearly defined. This may reflect a cultural belief in a unified cosmos where such dualities coexist, and where historical figures are elevated to the status of immortal beings or local deities in the popular imagination. Examples on view include the Han dynasty military general Guan Yu, who came to be identified with the God of War, and the Han official Dongfang Shuo, whose brash wit helped give rise to the legend that he stole and ate the peaches of immortality.

The paintings are selected from collections assembled in the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, when Chinese painting was just beginning to be collected in the West. The Dr. Frederick Peterson Collection was catalogued in 1930 by the well-known sinologist Berthold Laufer, and given by William Bingham II to Princeton in the early 1940s. The DuBois Schanck Morris, Class of 1893, Collection was assembled for teaching purposes when Morris served as a Presbyterian missionary in Anhui province, and was given to the museum between 1946 and 1949. These collections contain a variety of works, including temple, regional, professional, and workshop paintings that are outside the focus of most traditional collectors and connoisseurs. Because many of the paintings are only beginning to be investigated, they are presented here as a research exhibition. In many cases the authorship, date, subject, and region where they were painted remain unresolved. Viewers are encouraged to contribute what they know about the paintings and as research proceeds the descriptive labels will be revised.

The art museum is open to the public without charge. Free highlights tours of the collection are given every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The museum, located in the middle of the Princeton University campus, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Monday and major holidays. The Museum Shop closes at 5:00 p.m. For further information, please call (609) 258-3788 or visit our new Web site at www.princetonartmuseum.org.

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