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London gets rare glimpse at ancient Chinese art

By Susanna Ma (China Daily)

08:11, July 01, 2013

Rare examples of some of the oldest surviving Chinese paintings are on show in the United Kingdom for the first time.

Some of the works are classified as national treasures and have never left Asia.

The major autumn exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London presents more than 70 paintings created over 1,200 years.

Opening on Oct 26, the exhibition will run for three months.

The paintings are on loan from Chinese national museums and well-known private collections from around the world. "We have been planning for the show for more than two years, and it took a lot of efforts to come to an agreement," says Zhang Hongxin, curator of the exhibition.

Zhang says the exhibition is unprecedented in scale, as it brings together a number of famous pieces.

Martin Roth, director of the V&A, says the museum has been collecting Chinese art since it was founded in 1852.

The masterpieces are displayed on silk or paper. Some are so fragile they will only be available to view on a restricted basis, displayed for only a few hours or weeks.

The works were created by great masters and unknown artists. Unlike in the West, such paintings are regarded as supreme art in Chinese society and seldom displayed publicly.

One of the longest Chinese paintings, a 14-meter scroll by the well-known artist Bada Shanren will be included.

Zhang says this work has been seen by a limited number of people since it was created.

The exhibition will be organized chronologically and thematically in six successive periods. The works were created from the Tang (AD 618-907) to Qing dynasties (1644-1911).

The show explores the constant interplay between tradition and innovation.

The paintings reflect the evolving styles and subjects of art, including Buddhist liturgies, realistic observations of the natural world, artistic works about economic prosperity and the impact of European culture.

Buth McKillop, deputy director of the museum, says Chinese painting is an important subject, but knowledge in the West is lacking.

"Western audiences have a kind of unified view on Chinese painting. We want to introduce the whole concept of Chinese paintings and break the stereotype, through explaining to the West that Chinese painting is hugely complex but can be very simple," McKillop says.

The museum is reconstructing a studio to explain the technical process and traditional techniques that went into creating Chinese paintings that date back to the 14th century.

"We hope to help people to understand what they see," says Damien Nhit More, director of the program.

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