River as muse

Updated 2018-04-17 15:43:58

The 200-meter-long ink painting, Ten Thousand Li of Yangtze River, a collaboration of some 50 painters, is displayed at the National Museum of China in Beijing. The scroll features landscapes along the Yangtze River.

A textile company funds a painting project that aims to present a modern view of the Yangtze's landscapes.

The landscapes along the Yangtze, the world's third-longest river, have recurred as a motif in the works of Chinese painters for centuries.

Notable artists who have depicted the panoramic scenery include Xia Gui of the Song Dynasty (960-1279); Wang Hui, one of the four great mountain-and-water masters of the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911); and pioneers of modern art in China, such as Zhang Daqian and Wu Guanzhong.

Most of the earlier artists painted alone. But a recent project brought together some 50 painters to complete a new work depicting the river's scenery.

Ten Thousand Li of Yangtze River, the 200-meter-long ink painting, was displayed at the National Museum of China in Beijing recently. The river flows for some 6,300 kilometers, and a li - as a traditional Chinese unit of distance - equals 500 meters.

The painting is expected to be on permanent display at the Heilan Group's headquarters in Jiangyin, Jiangsu province. The textile company had commissioned the project.

Traditionally, the production of a classic mountain-and-water painting has centered on the idea of wo you, which literally means "wondering while lying down". The expression suggests that painters depict scenery in a way that allows the audience to imagine traveling mentally through a canvas, surrounding themselves with nature, even when indoors.

For Ten Thousand Li of Yangtze River, the painters from the Society of Classic Chinese Painting in Beijing adopted a realistic approach since they began working on the scroll last year.

They intended to celebrate not only the river's scenic grandeur but also man-made symbols, such as dams, which have added elements to the Yangtze landscape, so that the audience is able to view changes brought about by the country's reform and opening-up over the past four decades.

Participating painters have traveled to the landmark spots along the Yangtze, such as the Three Georges Dam and picturesque towns along the river's lower stretches. When conceiving the painting's layout, they again visited some of these locations to brush up their knowledge of the economic and cultural developments, according to Liu Dawei, chairman of the China Artists Association, who participated in the painting project.

Liu Dawei (front), chairman of the China Artists Association, who participated in the painting project, exchanges ideas with the director of the National Museum of China, Wang Chunfa, about the scroll at the exhibition.

"Many places along the Yangtze seemed familiar to many of us, but we were still overwhelmed by such massive world-class projects as the Three Georges Dam," says Liu of the power station.

Shi Jiangcheng, another participating painter, says trying to blend the beauty of the Three Georges - a highlight of Ten Thousand Li of Yangtze River - with the natural landscape was a different process as the ancient masters didn't have to include the modern infrastructure in their works.

"We depicted the dam with carefree brushwork, instead of giving attention to all the details, so that it doesn't look like an industrial label but appears more natural in its surroundings," says Shi.

The painting deviates from the traditional tendency of presenting the Yangtze's landscape as extensive but the river solitary, according to Zhang Fuxing, another painter on the team. He says the painting shows a "rejoicing and vigorous" river as an indicator of the energy of the country it runs through.

Zhou Jianping, the founder of Heilan, says many painters involved in the creation are in their 70s and 60s.

"It (depicting the Yangtze) was a shared dream," he says, adding that his company wanted to share its admiration of Chinese culture by funding the painting project.

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