Though most people would be able to identify a piece of art as ancient Chinese if it was placed in front of them, there is a diversity that most of us in the West are unaware of. It is the aim of this exhibition to bring this to light.
The works on display stretch over a 1,200 year period, letting visitors appreciate the evolution of Chinese art from religious paintings through to a period of landscape art and more political works that were produced in times of war.
Highlights include a scroll displaying nine cavorting dragons, a contemplative monkey and an iridescent blue-green landscape all rendered in immaculate details with rolling clouds captured as perfectly as in a photograph.
Many of the works are painted on silk. They are delicate and have faded over time, so visitors will spend a lot of time pressed against the glass display cases trying to make out the subtle, intricate details that fill almost every work.
Some of the most impressive paintings are preserved for the final room, including a grand depiction of a palatial retreat nestled in the mountains, rendered across 12 vertically hanging scrolls. And even this monumental work is outshone by a lengthy scroll of city life and momentous events that took a team of painters over three years to complete. The detail is amazing and you could easily spend over half an hour trying to pick out the individual characters and the activities they are undertaking.
This is an impressive and engrossing survey of Chinese painting, and a lot to take in on one visit. But it’s well worth it for this magnificent insight into a world of art many of us are seldom exposed to.
Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: 700-1900 is on at V&A until 19 January. Tickets are £12 for adults, concessions available.
Also on at V&A is the excellent and multi-disciplinary Tomorrow by Elmgreen & Dragset.