Faces from China's Past: Paintings for Entertainment & Remembrance

April 28, 2012-December 09, 2012

Location: Nelson-Atkins Building, Gallery 222
Admission is free

The figure paintings in this exhibition were made for decoration and entertainment or to honor the living and commemorate the dead. They were not intended for scholarly enjoyment or as collector’s items, and the artists who painted them are little known today. Nevertheless, these works are immediately appealing and tell fascinating stories about people real and imagined.

Beautiful and Talented Women affords forbidden glimpses of life in the women’s quarters, catalogue women’s activities, and evoke court life in ancient times.  Many paintings in this section idealize the aesthetic and sensual lives of women, particularly those of concubines and courtesans.

Commemorative and Ancestor Portraits celebrate anniversaries and the achievements of the living or venerate people of substance who had passed away. Their audience may have been primarily family and friends.

In the Company of Women echoes themes in contemporary popular literature and may have appealed to literate members of both genders.

Sketched from Art, Sketched from Life features figures and faces based on old paintings or on firsthand observation and may have been viewed as a form of realistic documentation.

This exhibition is a collaboration with the Spencer Museum of Art and the History of Art Department, University of Kansas. The exhibition is curated by graduate students Janet Chen, Tracy Cheng, Ji Yeon Kim, Annie Kroshus, and Myenghee Son led by Marsha Haufler, Professor of Later Chinese Art, and Dr. Ling-en Lu, Assistant Curator of Chinese Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.


Album of 74 Portrait Heads, 19th century Chinese Album, ink and color on paper Overall: 7 1/2 x 5 3/8 x 1 1/2 in. (19.05 x 13.6525 x 3.81 cm) Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust

Faces from Your Past

Some of the figure paintings in this exhibition were made to honor the living and commemorate the dead. In keeping with this spirit, we invited visitors to draw faces of someone they would like to honor or commemorate.