On July 29, 2017, organized by National Art Museum of China (NAMOC), co-organized by Xiao Xian Memorial Hall on Nanjing Qiuyu Mountain and supported by Publicity Department of the CPC Jiangsu Provincial Committee, Jiangsu Provincial Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Jiangsu Provincial Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Culture, Radio, Film and Television, Press and Publication Bureau of Nanjing City and Nanjing Pukou District People's Government, “Donation and Collection Series Exhibition of National Art Museum of China: Calligraphy Life——Calligraphy Exhibition for Master Xiao Xian’s 115th Birthday” Was Unveiled in National Art Museum of China (NAMOC).
This exhibition demonstrates Master Xiao Xian’s calligraphy achievements in three parts entitled “Master Tuige’s Life Story”, “Lofty Sentiments from Large-character Brushwork” and “Versatile Artist with Outstanding Talents”, respectively. About 100 posthumous works are on exhibit. Xiao Xian’s family members generously donate ten calligraphy works (such as Five-Character Couplet for Archaic Garden and High Tower) and a collection of impressions of Master Xiao Xian’s seals to NAMOC. These collectibles not only preciously expand collection spectrum of the 20th century calligraphy masterpieces kept in NAMOC, but also highlight Xiao Xian’s family members’ noble morality of selfless dedication.
Xiao Xian (1902-1997) was a native of Guiyang, Guizhou Province. With “Zhiqiu” as her alias, “Tuige” as her pseudonym and “Owner of Zhenqin Study” as her signature, she grasped clerical script skills to follow suit Deng Shiru’s calligraphy style when she was only 13 years old. She used to be reputed as “Prodigy of Guangdong”. The young Xiao Xian liked travel and drinking, and she was bold and uninhibited. At the time of the Northern Expedition, Xiao Xian rooted for a charity event, which was held by Mrs. Soong Chingling in Guangdong. She sold her calligraphy works at thousands of silver dollars, and donated all money to support the national revolution. At the age of 20, introduced by her friend, Xiao Xian paid a visit to Kang Youwei in Shanghai. When Kang Youwei appreciated the inscription of San Family Plate written by Xiao Xian at the age of 13, he delightedly created a poem: “Young girl Xiao Xian, who creates calligraphy work San Family Plate, demonstrates her vigorous and imposing artistic style and unmatched talent. This rookie will be bound to surpass all veterans one day, as she is reincarnated descendent of Madam Wei Shuo of the Jin Dynasty.”
In early years, Xiao Xian advocated stele studies and gained profound attainment of Northern School. Her works in seal script imitate Deng Shiru’s simple style. Later, she learned to make inscriptions on drum-shaped stone blocks of the Warring States Period and “Zhouwen (big-seal style)” in more archaic manner. Her works in clerical script imitate Cliffside Carving Stele for Extolling Feats in Shimen. Her works in running script imitate Cliffside Carving Inscription for Demotion and Re-Promotion for Yang Zhi on Mount Tai. She also absorbed strong points from other steles of the Han and Wei Dynasties (such as Memorial Stele for Zhang Qian, Stele for Xiyue Temple on Mount Hua, Memorial Stele for Cuan Longyan and Memorial Stele for Duke Wen of Zheng State) so as to flexibly leverage the skills. At middle age, Xiao Xian wandered about many mountains and rivers in southwest region, and then she settled down in Nanjing, an ancient capital for six dynasties in China. Through her lifetime, she fixed her eyes on the Nature, paid attention to various sceneries, and radiated great essences of the Nature and bold charms of landscapes to express artistic conception. She often created works themed with surging waves and steep lofty mountains. She was good at extraordinary big characters to boldly wield her brush at will. In sublime, powerful and mixed style, her calligraphy is not confined on rice paper. The truth of calligraphy art lies in unique temperament and echoes with the Nature. Xiao Xian’s calligraphy is characterized by mild appearance and unrestrained style, which develops its own unique feature and influences the contemporary art.
This exhibition consists of three parts as follows. Part of “Master Tuige’s Life Story” briefly rolls out Xiao Xian's life story, and presents about ten exhibits in chronological order of artistic creation. Xiao Xian had the pseudonym of “Tuige”. What does this mean? She independently gave her answer: “‘Tuige’ means the exit from boudoir. Other people comment that my calligraphy is not feminine so that I use this pseudonym.” Throughout Xiao Xian’s lifetime, her pursuit cannot be merely described as “exit from boudoir”, as she not only exited from the boudoir, but also upheld life belief to sublime on the basis of “exit”. “Tuige” deeply implies Master Xiao Xian’s grand vision of pursuit for change and sublimation. This vision enlightens us to gain more insights into her simple feelings in dedication to real life when appreciating her calligraphy works.
Part of “Lofty Sentiments from Large-character Brushwork” highlights about 40 works. “Large-character Brushwork” not only shows character size, but also radiates literary mind and scholarly aspiration from selected literatures. “Lofty Sentiments” not only express the affection to the mountains and rivers, but also manifest static and dynamic boundless universe in this context. Part of “Lofty Sentiments from Large-character Brushwork” showcases Xiao Xian’s superb skills of perfectly combining calligraphy and literature adding luster to each other, which is the most typical feature of her calligraphy art. Straightforward revelation of her own temperament is awe-inspiring and upright. As mentioned in Pao Ding Lun Shu by Xiao Xian: “I am fond of large-character script because of my love for great objects. For example, I love the Yangtze River surging towards the sky. I love the Great Wall as defending boundaries extending for thousands of miles.” Her magnificent emotions blend into the mountains and give out through the Chinese ink. Therefore, she is inspired by nature and wields her brush in unlimited style.
Part of “Versatile Artist with Outstanding Talents” displays about 40 works, focuses on Xiao Xian’ writing concerns, highlights her writing status in multi-pronged manner, and takes kaleidoscopic view for this female calligrapher dedicated to calligraphy throughout her lifetime. Family affection, friendship, interest, self-cultivation and even love for homeland constitute a wide range of Xiao Xian’s writing concerns. These concerns stem from her real life. She translates such life reality into writing, and expresses with different calligraphy style practices. These expressions convey this respectable calligrapher’s optimistic, aspiring, plain and easy-going mindset.
On one hand, this exhibition unfolds Xiao Xian's posthumous works to probe into hers academic spirit and ideal, and encourage people to attach comprehensive importance to and learn from Xiao Xian. At the same time, with the development of calligraphy, people are guided by this exhibition to gain insights into the present existence of calligraphy, get to the root of profound calligraphy art as a branch of Chinese traditional culture, and further make progress in the study of traditional Chinese culture. On the other hand, this exhibition proves that NAMOC always spares no effort for the development of calligraphy art, raises the visibility of the late important calligraphers in the 20th Century, urges NAMOC to collect calligraphy masterpieces, fills the gap in this field, and promotes academic research on all aspects for the development of modern and contemporary calligraphy.