The Met to Lend Works for the Nezu Museum’s Autumn, 2023, Special Exhibition



Classic of Filial Piety (detail)
By Li Gonglin

  • China Northern Song dynasty
  • ca. 1085
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Image: TNM Image Archives

Five Horses (detail)
By Li Gonglin

  • Important Art Object
  • China Northern Song dynasty
  • 11th century
  • Tokyo National Museum

The Nezu Museum is proud to announce that the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA) has graciously agreed to lend two masterpieces of Northern Song paintings from its collection, Classic of Filial Piety by Li Gonglin and Portrait of Bi Shichang, for the Nezu Museum’s Special Exhibition “Masterpieces of Northern Song Paintings and Calligraphy,” which begins in November, 2023.

The Song period (960–1279) was one of the historic pinnacles of Chinese calligraphy and painting, and works from that period were regarded as classics by later generations. In Japan, acquisition of Song paintings and cherishing collections of them began almost contemporaneously with their production, and many have been handed down over the centuries. With the collapse of the Qing and works of art flowing overseas, entrepreneurs in Japan energetically collected Chinese works, believing that they should at least remain in Asia. The collections that they built mean that several superb examples of Northern Song paintings and calligraphy are extant in Japan.

In 2018, the fabled Five Horses picture scroll by Li Gonglin (1049?–1106), one of the leading Northern Song painters, reappeared for the first time in more than eighty years. Until then, it had only been known through a black-and-white collotype print. The actual painting is surprisingly delicate yet richly colorful and transcends the conventional image of Li Gonglin as a master of baimiaohua, ink-line painting. It has inspired a revision of Northern Song art history, and indeed of the history of painting in China as a whole.

The reappearance of the Five Horses (now in the Tokyo National Museum’s collection) has provided a splendid opportunity to organize a special exhibition bringing together masterpieces of Northern Song paintings and calligraphy at our museum.

In recognition of the significance of our special exhibition showcasing outstanding works of Northern Song dynasty calligraphy and painting that have survived in Japan, including the Five Horses, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has kindly agreed to lend the Classic of Filial Piety, a benchmark work of ink-line painting, by Li Gonglin, and the Portrait of Bi Shichang (detached segment from the set Five Old Men of Suiyang), which shows the true portrait expression achieved by Northern Song dynasty painting. Exhibiting Li Gonglin's two masterpieces, Classic of Filial Piety and Five Horses, together is an unprecedented event.

With the special display of those Metropolitan Museum of Art works, this exhibition will be the first opportunity in Japan to fully explore the essence of Northern Song paintings and calligraphy.

Special Exibition "Masterpieces of Northern Song Paintings and Calligraphy" BRIEF
【Exhibition period】
 Friday, November 3 – Sunday, December 3, 2023
 Closed on Mondays
 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (entrance closes at 4:30 p.m.)
【Admission fee】
 To be announced
 Nezu Museum, Galleries 1, 2, and 5
 Itakura Masaaki(Professor of University of Tokyo, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, Executive Trustee, Nezu Museum)
 Nezu Museum