This is a group of major Chinese artists who worked in the 17th and early 18th centuries (Qing dynasty). Also known as “orthodox masters,” they continued the tradition of the scholar-painter, following the injunctions of the artist-critic Dong Qichang (董其昌) in the late Ming dynasty.
The Six Masters include the landscapists Wu Li (吳歷) and the Four Wangs—Wang Shimin (王時敏), Wang Jian (王鑑), Wang Hui (王翬), and Wang Yuanqi (王原祁)—as well as the flower painter Yun Shouping (惲壽平). The works of the Six Masters are generally conservative, cautious, subtle, and complex in contrast to the vigorous and vivid painting of their “individualist” contemporaries.
The Four Wangs concentrated on the techniques of brushwork and application of ink long admired in the work of past artists. They seldom went outside to look at nature. Instead, they created their landscapes in the studio. The later paintings of the Four Wangs, however, were more formalized.
Like the work of the other Six Masters, Wu Li’s landscapes evolved from the Four Masters of the Yuan dynasty. Instead of simply imitating his predecessors, he insisted that artists “get the gist of the painters of the past.” Compared with the Four Wangs, his brush and ink is more varied and more expressive of his personality.
Yun Shouping’s flower painting changed the ornate style of the court paintings of the Ming dynasty. He continued the “boneless” method initiated by Xu Chongsi (徐崇嗣) in the Northern Song dynasty. His method of painting soon gained widespread popularity, and many artists acknowledged his influence.