The Weng Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Yesterday afternoon I finally got over to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the Weng Collection exhibition of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy. The exhibition was relatively small, but it was incredible what the Weng family was able to collect over six generations.

One aspect of the exhibition which I found particularly engaging was how distinctive each individual person’s calligraphy was. In the exhibition, they had several very long, horizontal scrolls which had been written on by multiple people, and it was amazing how distinctive each person’s hand was in the calligraphy. Some of the calligraphy was so small and delicate, whereas I saw some passages that were boldly written so that they almost looked like they could have been written by a child, despite their sophistication.

Left: Weng Tonghe, 1830-1904
Right: Wan-go Weng, his wife Virginia Dzung Weng, and their daughter Ssu in Shanghai in 1948

The other feature I noticed in this exhibition was the incredibly long, horizontal scrolls that were prominent throughout. I’m really used to seeing the long, vertical scrolls all over the place, but this was the first time I had seen the reverse format. There was one scroll that was so long that it must have been at least 20 feet long, and in the case you could see that they weren’t even featuring the whole image, and that there had to have been at least a few more feet rolled up on the scroll.

This got me thinking again about format for the Wading Series. Back in January I had initially started off considering scrolls and other ways of presenting the work, but then I became distracted by the painting itself and so I left the format issues aside temporarily. I was really taken by the long, horizontal scrolls that I think it’s a format I’d like to try out in my ink drawings. In the past, I haven’t been someone who has done anything that unusual or out of the ordinary in terms of format. For the most part, I’ve generally stayed within the traditions of the medium I’m working with, like in printmaking and painting. I think this might be the time to try out a very specific format and see if it does anything for my compositions and overall style and look. I think I’d like to focus on the horizontal format more than the scroll format. The scroll might make the connection to Chinese calligraphy a little too blatant, so it may be something I want to avoid. Either way, I think the extreme horizontal format is quite conducive to the kind of landscape that I’m trying to fabricate through the water.


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