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The Poetic Mandarin, Chinese Calligraphy
LI Wentian (1834-1895) Couplet in regular script (detail), pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper. 41 x 204.5cm each. Collection Art Gallery of NSW. Gift of James Hayes 2003.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.-The Art Gallery of New South Wales presents The Poetic Mandarin, Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection on view through November 27, 2005. In late imperial China the art of calligraphy became the most esteemed of all the arts. This exhibition and accompanying publication reveal a very personal journey of collecting. For James Hayes, serving in the Hong Kong government in the 1970s and '80s, calligraphy became not only a source of pleasure and satisfaction but also a wonderful insight into the style, manner and machinery of government in Qing dynasty China (1644-1912).

Acquired over four decades, the James Hayes Collection wonderfully illustrates the great tradition of Chinese calligraphy and the Art Gallery of New South Wales is indebted to James Hayes for donating this wonderful collection to the Gallery. The exhibition, The Poetic Mandarin, comprising 47 calligraphic works ranging from the late Ming to early 20th century, acknowledges this unique contribution to the Gallery's Asian art collection.

"The art of calligraphy in China is far more than the mere act of writing. It is an art of revelation, through meaning, interpretation, emotion, imagination and the sheer physical flourish of the brush and ink." Edmund Capon, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales

The calligraphic works on show were composed by scholar-officials, or scholar-mandarins, many of whom were members of the esteemed imperial Hanlin Academy and notable calligraphers, painters, poets and philosophers. Some were more important as high officials than as calligraphers, but such was the aura surrounding high office in the elite culture of the Qing period that their brushwork was still in demand.

Many of the scrolls are couplets. The unique form of the Chinese couplet comprises two narrow pieces of paper or silk, usually hung either side of a large painting or doorway. The couplets, taken from classical poetry or contemporary literary works composed by the calligraphers can be appreciated for their literary, scholarly and aesthetic values. It was common practice to send them to friends or relations on such occasions as marriage or birthday, or as condolences to families of deceased persons.

The accompanying publication includes essays by Edmund Capon, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Dr James Hayes and Dr Liu Yang, curator, Chinese Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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