Rare display of British landscape works in China

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Landscape art is one of Britain's most important contributions to the visual arts in Europe, and some of the finest British works are now on display in China.

The Rev. John Chafy Playing the Violoncello in a Landscape, by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). [Photo provided to China Daily]

Tate Britain, the oldest gallery in the Tate family of art institutions, has brought to China a large collection of British art from the 18th century to 1998 for an ongoing show at the Shanghai Museum.

The exhibition, Landscapes of the Mind, is being held at the museum through Aug 5, after opening on April 27. This is among the largest displays of British landscape art ever to be held in China, consisting of 71 artworks, including oil paintings, prints and photographs. The exhibition will move to the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in September.

"The exhibition not only showcases the brilliant landscapes of Britain, but more importantly, it is a window into Western art and history," Yang Zhigang, director of Shanghai Museum, says.

The exhibition is part of a series of special events held by Shanghai Museum this year to showcase "outstanding artworks from all over the world", Li Zhongmou, its deputy director, adds.

The Tate network consists of four galleries: Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives.

While most people are familiar with Tate Modern, one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world, Tate Britain used to be called the National Gallery of British Art, with its comprehensive collection of artwork.

Tate Britain received 7 million visitors in 2017, according to Daniel Slater, head of international collection at Tate Britain.

The most important mission of the museum, he says is to make the artwork relevant to people from different countries, too.

Works by British masters such as J. M. W. Turner and John Constable are exhibits in the China show, aiming to present a full picture of British landscape art from the olden days to more recent times.

Landscape is an important subject in traditional Chinese art as well.

"It will be interesting to make comparisons between Chinese and English landscape art, such as the different perspectives and techniques," Yang says.

"To some extent all landscapes are landscapes of the mind, because the artist changes the details," says Anne Lyles, curator of 18th to 19th century British art at Tate Britain, explaining the title of the exhibition.

Landscape art in China is the projection of the mind and spirit and the relationships between people and nature in terms of "feeding the soul", she says, while in British art it is not quite the case.

"However in early Romantic art, with Constable and Turner, there is very much more a projection of the emotional and personal ideas of the individual onto the picture, although it is not done in a very literal way, as it doesn't illustrate a particular text," she adds.

When you see some Chinese landscape paintings, especially the long scrolls, you follow a story as the painting spreads, presenting a narrative that is evolving, but usually in a Western painting, only one moment is represented, Lyles says.

However, sometimes the artist paints the landscape in such a way that it encourages the viewer to imagine what happened before that scene and what might come next, she adds.

If you go

Landscapes of the Mind: Masterpieces from Tate Britain (1700-1998)

9 am-5 pm daily, Mondays closed, through Aug 5. Shanghai Museum, 201 Renmin Avenue, Huangpu district, Shanghai 021-6372-3500

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