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Fragrant Space
The appreciation of nature - in all its subtle, seasonal nuances - is so integral to Chinese culture that there is a distinct category of painting dedicated solely to capturing the beauty of flowers and birds. Innumerable artists have been so moved by the sublime beauty of nature to devote themselves exclusively and lyrically to its close observation.

The exquisite depiction of flowers and birds is enhanced by the symbiotic relationship of poetry, literature and painting which adds a symbolic and allusive layering to each image. For example a peony is the flower of summer, but also symbolises nobility and wealth; a wild swan epitomises unrestrained freedom; a pair of mandarin ducks - conjugal bliss. The plum blossom, pine and bamboo, all emblems of longevity and winter, together are known as 'The Three Friends of Winter', and symbolise independence of spirit, endurance and moral integrity.

The paintings in the exhibition are by major artists of the Ming and Qing dynasties (15th to early 20th centuries). There are over one hundred paintings, in the various formats of hanging scrolls, handscrolls and album leaves, with some in sets, such as flowers of the four seasons. Many of the painters are from Suzhou, famous for the gentle beauty of its gardens. In earlier times the literati met in these enclosed landscaped gardens to appreciate flowers, compose poetry and admire antiques while drinking wine. From poetry and painting about flowers emerged a floral cult that affected the very culture of everyday life.

Fragrant Space is full of the great names of Chinese painting: the masters of the Wu school, some of the Six Great Masters of early Qing and the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou famous for their unconventional behaviour and painting styles. The famous Shitao and Zhu Da, two of the Four Great Monk Painters, are included. So too is Jiang Tingxi, hailed as one of the most brilliant flower and bird painters, and Wen Shu, one of the most important women painters of the Ming dynasty.

The exhibition is a joyous pleasure, a savouring of a discreet beauty that the modern world too often misses as the subtle changes of the seasons are captured in the budding, blooming and falling of blossoms, and in the coming of the birds of spring and the departing of ducks on their annual winter pilgrimage. If the sensual and aesthetic delight of these images is not sufficient alone, the poetic, literary and political overtones enthral the mind, amuse and elate. Viewers will be seduced by the delicate images, overwhelmed by the lush ones, their spirits uplifted by roaming through this fragrant space.

On view:5 May to Sunday 25 June 2000
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744
Recorded Information (02) 9225 1790
Hours:10am to 5pm
7 days a week
(closed Christmas Day and Easter Friday)
Admission:$5 adults $3 concessions and members
Media Information and Interviews:Jan Batten, Press Office
Telephone (02) 9233 1213 or (0418) 279 348

images available on request