This exhibition is the first to focus solely on Chen Hongshou, a major figure in Chinese painting of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Highlighting a selection of his best extant work, including figure, landscape, and bird-and-flower paintings drawn from BAMPFA’s holdings as well as collections worldwide, the exhibition demonstrates why Chen (1599–1652) has long been regarded as one of the most visually exciting artists of his time. His iconic manner of painting figures in the styles of ancient masters lends an aura of antiquity to his work, which is equally enlivened by distinct expressions of irony, humor, and pathos. His landscape paintings reflect his vast knowledge of past traditions, while his bird-and-flower paintings display a remarkable freshness and modernity that has tremendous appeal for viewers today.
The exhibition title, Repentant Monk: Illusion and Disillusion in the Art of Chen Hongshou, refers to the sobriquet that Chen adopted in 1646, shortly after the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, and goes to the heart of the art on view. Chen used the name “Repentant Monk” (Hui Seng, 悔僧) in seals and signatures for only a short period, but his paintings continued to reflect this state of mind throughout his life. Caught in a time of social and political chaos and fraught with guilt and regret over the deteriorating situation for artists loyal to the Ming, Chen was seriously disillusioned, a condition that can be sensed clearly in his later paintings.
The exhibition is accompanied by a unique audio guide featuring Devendra Banhart reading the artist’s inscriptions.