Venue：No. 3 Exhibition Hall
In ancient China, letters were compared to koi fish, wild goose, messenger bird, and cloud. Letters were medium of communication. They traveled miles and miles, carrying people’s worries, longings, and best wishes to their beloved ones in remote places.
In the history of literature, many private letters of famous historical figures have been collected and admired for generations, such as Sima Qian’s “A Letter to Ren’an”, Ji Kang’s “A Dear John Letter to Shan Tao”, Wu Jun’s “A Letter to Zhu Yuansi”, Wang Wei’s “A Letter to Xiucai Pei Di, Written in Mountains”, Bai Juyi’s “A Letter to Yuan Zhen”, Suzhou’s “A Replying Letter to Xie Minshi”, etc.
In the history of Chinese art, calligraphy works in early stage were composed of private letters. The Western Jin scholar Lu Ji’s “Pingfu Tie”, known as the earliest calligraphy model in China, was in fact a letter he wrote to a friend. The works of the famous calligraphers Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi, available as either authentic works or copies, were mostly casually written letters. These works are small-scaled and exquisite, like feathers fall from a bird flying through, representing the precious light of dawn in Chinese calligraphy history.
The Shanghai Museum has a rich collection of Ming dynasty literati letters, among which those left by Wu School artists are especially great in both quantity and quality. As historical records, their contents offer a comprehensive understanding of the politics, family life, and artistic life of the time. The Wu School artists’ personal lives and experiences, their artistic concepts and aesthetic tastes, their friends of circles, and even the fashion in the literary and artistic world, were preserved in these pieces. As art works, they were written casually by artists in their most relaxed status, revealing their most true personalities and unfeigned handwritings, thus allow nowadays audience to understand their artistic styles from a different perspective.
The Shanghai Museum selects more than 50 pieces of letters that are valuable as both historical records and calligraphy samples for the exhibition “Private Letters of Suzhou Wu School Artists”. Most of them have never been shown to the public before. For audience to read more of their works, the catalogue intentionally includes high quality pieces that are not shown in the exhibition. We wish these works would help uncover Wu School artists’ private and artistic lives in the Ming dynasty.