Masterpieces of Northern Song Painting and Calligraphy

This one-month exhibition just concluded three days ago at the Nezu Museum in Tokyo, but it is worth a revisit. The Song period (960–1279) was a pinnacle in the history of Chinese painting and calligraphy, and works from that period were regarded as classics by later generations. Starting in Japan’s medieval period (1185–1573), Japanese connoisseurs of Chinese art are known to have treasured Southern Song (1127–1279) works. Moreover, works from the preceding Northern Song period (960-1127) had also been brought to Japan almost contemporaneously with their production, in the late Heian period (eleventh and twelfth centuries). In the modern period, with the collapse of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911) and the outflow of works of art from China, entrepreneurs in Japan energetically collected Chinese works, believing that they should at least remain in Asia. The collections that they built added more superb examples of Northern Song painting and calligraphy to be handed down in Japan.

One of those masterpieces is the fabled Five Horses picture scroll (now in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum) by Li Gonglin (1049–1106), a leading Northern Song painter. In 2018, it reappeared for the first time in more than eighty years. That remarkable event inspired this exhibition of superb Northern Song works of painting and calligraphy handed down in Japan. These works are joined by a special exhibit, Classic of Filial Piety, a benchmark work of ink-line painting by Li Gonglin, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has lent for this exhibition.

This exhibition is the first in Japan to explore the essence of the Northern Song arts of painting and calligraphy.

Source: Nezu Museum