Zhe School

       The “Zhe School (浙派)” is a term that has been used since the seventeenth century to refer to a group of Ming dynasty (1368–1644) professional painters linked stylistically and centered in the Zhejiang area. With Dai Jin (戴進) and Wu Wei (吳偉) as its leading artists in the fifteenth century, this group mostly followed the styles of the Li Cheng (李成) and Guo Xi (郭熙) school from the Northern Song (960–1127) and Ma Yuan (馬遠) and Xia Gui (夏珪) of the Southern Song (1127–1279) imperial painting academy. Zhe School landscapes are often filled with an expressive energy, while figural and bird-and-flower themes mainly deal with easily understood or auspicious subjects frequently permeated by a bustling and vigorous folk manner. In the later years of the Zhe School, some artists developed increasingly carefree and unbridled forms of brush and ink as they pursued extroverted and dramatic visual effects. This group encompassed the most active of both local and court painters in the early Ming dynasty, the style eventually influencing even Japanese artists of the Muromachi period (1393–1573) and Korean ones in the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910). Thus, in many ways, the Zhe School was one of the most influential and international forces in Chinese painting history.

       Zhe School artists, however, were not confined to the Zhejiang area, because they also came from Fujian, Guangdong, and other provinces. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, painters were in great demand to decorate palaces, halls, temples, and shrines, so they were active both locally and in the central government. The easy-to-understand subjects of Zhe School works frequently are complemented by visually emphatic forms of expression, standing in marked contrast to the more introverted styles of brush and ink appreciated by literati. The rise of literati painting thus led these professional painters of similar stylistic and social background to be disparagingly labeled by scholar-critics starting from the late sixteenth century as “wild and heterodox (狂態邪學)”. The style eventually faded in the prejudices of history.