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Huntington to Present Esteemed Collection of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy
Tang Song, 1829–1858, China, Qing dynasty. Album of Flowers and Calligraphy, ca. 1855. Album, ink and color on paper, 8 1/2 x 9 3/5 inches. Wan-go H.C. Weng Collection.

SAN MARINO, CA.- The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will highlight one of the greatest private collections of Chinese art in the nation with the presentation of “Treasures through Six Generations: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection,” on view April 11–July 12, 2009, in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery. Based on an exhibition organized in 2007 by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Huntington’s presentation will feature 41 masterworks created over a period of 900 years along with personal objects belonging to the Weng family. The exhibition will be complemented by an array of educational programs and a catalog based on new research published by Huntington Library Press.

Revered in China as well as in the United States, the Weng collection also was presented in “The Preservation of Inheritance: The Weng Collection of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy” at the Beijing World Art Museum (Dec. 10, 2008–Feb. 1, 2009).

Assembled primarily during the 19th century, the Weng collection has survived more than 150 years of dynastic changes and warfare to remain unscathed in the care of one family. Weng Tonghe (1830–1904),who formed the collection, was a preeminent figure in China, a “scholar-official” who held some of the highest positions at the imperial court. His collection of paintings and calligraphy was passed down through six generations, finally coming to his great-great-grandson Wan-go H.C. Weng (b. 1918), currently living in New Hampshire.

“It is a tremendous honor to be presenting one of the most important collections of Chinese art in the world to audiences in Southern California,” said Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington. “Wan-go H.C. Weng helped The Huntington create a spirit of authenticity for our Suzhou-style garden, and now the works in his family’s collection and their examples of scholarship, connoisseurship, and preservation will provide a rich cultural context for Liu Fang Yuan, our Garden of Flowing Fragrance”

Wan-go H.C. Weng left China for the United States when Japan attacked Shanghai in 1937, but returned in 1948 to bring the family collection back to the United States for safekeeping, months before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when the country would be virtually closed off from the world for the next 30 years. A filmmaker, poet, historian, and artist, Weng has committed himself to the preservation and study of his cultural heritage and served as the first adviser to The Huntington’s Chinese garden, Liu Fang Yuan, or Garden of Flowing Fragrance, which opened in February 2008.

“This will be a rare opportunity for experts and enthusiasts to view masterpieces from the Song, Ming, and Qing periods and works that define the meaning of Chinese scholarly taste,” notes June Li, curator of The Huntington’s Chinese garden and of the exhibition. “But ‘Treasures through Six Generations’ will be designed for those with little previous exposure to Chinese cultural traditions, as well. It will tell stories about virtuosity, history, and family that are universally meaningful, and the tale of the Weng family and its art collection is an excellent way to learn basic Confucian values that infuse Chinese culture.”

“Treasures through Six Generations,” comprising works ranging from the 12th to the 21st century, will be organized chronologically and will include two videos with Wan-go H.C. Weng produced by Northern Light Productions for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—one focusing on the collection and its stewardship and the other explaining how to view a monumental hand scroll, Ten Thousand Li up the Yangzi River (1699) by Wang Hui (1632–1717). An education room with self-directed art-making activities will focus on three elements intrinsic to Chinese painting: brushwork, calligraphy, and seals.

One of the earliest works in “Treasures through Six Generations” is a hand scroll by Liang Kai (13th century),who was especially well-known for his Buddhist and Daoist figure paintings, but who from about 1201 to 1204 served as a painter at the court of the Southern Song. Not many of his works remain, and Frontispiece to a Daoist Scripture (ca. 1201–04) is the only known example of his courtly style. Made with fine ink lines in a technique called baimiao, the painting depicts six narrative scenes of human activities surrounding a centrally seated figure emanating radiance and accompanied by a group of saintly figures. A mysterious title strip mounted on the painting has inspired a scholarly debate that continues today.

The largest work on view will be Ten Thousand Li up the Yangzi River by Wang Hui, in which the artist traces China’s greatest river in about 53 feet of imaginatively layered brushwork. The Yangzi is the longest river in Asia, flowing from the Dangla Mountains in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau eastward to the East China Sea. It is a major resource for agriculture and a crucial artery for trade. Wang Hui’s meticulous treatment of the Yangzi theme in this scroll makes it one of the imperial painter’s greatest works. Visually summarizing 3,915 miles of river, Wang Hui highlights various cities, settlements, and famous sceneries along the way with descriptive details and delicate brushwork.

Along with these and other great works by classical Chinese artists such as Shen Zhou (1427–1509),Chen Hongshou (1598–1652), and Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715), paintings and calligraphy created by generations of the Weng family, including Weng Tonghe and Wan-go H.C. Weng, will show the continuation of discipline and cultivation of the scholar class, traditionally the leading elite of China.

Calligraphy of the Character Hu (Tiger) (1890), a hanging scroll by Weng Tonghe, is a dramatic single character hu or “tiger,”written in ancient cursive script.Hu was regarded as a powerful talisman against harmful spirits, and Weng Tonghe’s hu is especially compelling because of his prominent status and auspicious timing. He wrote the calligraphy during the first month of 1890, the Year of the Tiger, when he turned 60. At that time, Weng was at the height of his career as teacher and trusted advisor to the Guangxu emperor, who had just taken over executive duties.

A delicately painted hand scroll by Wan-go H.C.Weng, Elegant Gathering at the Laixi Residence (1986–90), is one of the more recent works in the exhibition. “Elegant gathering” (yaji), describes a meeting of cultivated individuals who exchange ideas and sentiments through poetry, calligraphy, music, and painting—an event that has been at the center of Chinese literati life for centuries. As recorded in the painting, such an event was held in April 1985 at Laixi Residence, the home of Wan-go and his wife, when six of the most respected historians of Chinese painting and calligraphy met to view the Weng collection. The scholars from China were seeing the famous collection for the first time, elated to know that it had not been lost but remained intact and was well cared for.

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