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In late imperial China the art of calligraphy became the most esteemed of all the arts. This exhibition and accompanying publication reveal a very personal journey of collecting. For James Hayes, serving in the Hong Kong government in the 1970s and '80s, calligraphy became not only a source of pleasure and satisfaction but also a wonderful insight into the style, manner and machinery of government in Qing dynasty China (1644-1912).

Acquired over four decades, the James Hayes Collection wonderfully illustrates the great tradition of Chinese calligraphy and the Art Gallery of New South Wales is indebted to James Hayes for donating this wonderful collection to the Gallery. The exhibition, The Poetic Mandarin, comprising 47 calligraphic works ranging from the late Ming to early 20th century, acknowledges this unique contribution to the Gallery's Asian art collection.

"The art of calligraphy in China is far more than the mere act of writing. It is an art of revelation, through meaning, interpretation, emotion, imagination and the sheer physical flourish of the brush and ink."
Edmund Capon, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales

The calligraphic works on show were composed by scholar-officials, or scholar-mandarins, many of whom were members of the esteemed imperial Hanlin Academy and notable calligraphers, painters, poets and philosophers. Some were more important as high officials than as calligraphers, but such was the aura surrounding high office in the elite culture of the Qing period that their brushwork was still in demand.

Many of the scrolls are couplets. The unique form of the Chinese couplet comprises two narrow pieces of paper or silk, usually hung either side of a large painting or doorway. The couplets, taken from classical poetry or contemporary literary works composed by the calligraphers can be appreciated for their literary, scholarly and aesthetic values. It was common practice to send them to friends or relations on such occasions as marriage or birthday, or as condolences to families of deceased persons.

The accompanying publication includes essays by Edmund Capon, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Dr James Hayes and Dr Liu Yang, curator, Chinese Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Wednesdays 6.30pm. Free
26 October - Su-Cheen Yu, soprano, on calligraphy and Chinese opera
2 November - Kevin Rudd MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security on political life and bureaucracy

Held in conjunction with the exhibition, a film program of personal/political dramas explores the turbulent cultural and political changes in 20th-century China.
Wednesdays 2pm and 7.15pm and Sundays 2pm. Free
26 & 30 October To Live - dir: Zhang Yimou 1994, 125 min. 35mm Colour
2 & 6 November Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress  - dir: Sijie Dai 2002, 116 min. 35mm Colour
9 & 13 November Hibiscus town - dir: Xie Jin 1986, 131 min. 35mm Colour

Friday 14 October 1pm. Free
Dr Liu Yang, curator, Chinese art

GUIDED TOURS in Mandarin language
Wednesdays 1pm, 26 October, 2 November, 9 November. Free

Wednesdays 12, 19 October 5.30pm. Free
Original poetry with the Australian Chinese Writers Association

Monday 3 October 11am-4pm. Free
Meet a Chinese scholar straight from a Cantonese opera as he enjoys music and beautiful writing in his studio.
Asian Gallery and Functions Space

On view:23 September - 27 November 2005
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744 or
recorded information (02) 9225 1790
National Toll Free 1800 679 278
Hours:10am to 5pm 7 days a week
Art After Hours until 9pm every Wednesday
Media Information and Interviews:Claire Martin, Press Office
Telephone (02) 9225 1734 or
Images available on request

IMAGE CREDIT: Zhang Zhidong (1837-1909) Du Fu's poem in running script Fan, ink on paper. 40.8 x 69.5cm each. Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales - Gift of James Hayes 2003