Sunday, November 24, 2013

Women in Chinese Painting

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through April 27, 2014

Two trips to the Freer in one week - heaven on earth!  This show, considerably larger than the small case of Freer bibles I saw on Monday, is on both representations of women in Chinese painting and on paintings by Chinese women.

Even though they had none of the rights of men, women were critical to Chinese society; as Mao put it, centuries later, "women hold up half the sky."  In traditional Confucian philosophy, however, women had no control over their own destiny or ability to determine the course of their own lives.  They existed simply to serve men, to assist them to fulfill their potential.  How depressing.  Attending this show made me wonder why women have been assigned this second-class role in so many societies and to be thankful that I live in a (sometimes only slightly) more enlightened period.

Women painters were most likely to come from the households of male painters, and in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the figure of the courtesan artist emerged.  Women's paintings tended to look a great deal like men's paintings - dealing with the same themes and using the same techniques.

One of the themes I noticed particularly was that of the sad woman: neglected, idle and lonely, with nothing to do.  Even though they were members of the wealthiest part of their society, they had no role to play and no contribution to make.  A sad life to live.

Verdict: A more somber exhibit than I'm accustomed to see at the Freer, but one with a vast deal of food for thought.

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