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The poetic mandarin
Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection

Focusing on the cultural life of the imperial Chinese mandarins, this exhibition reveals the important role of calligraphy both in an official’s career and as a leisure activity.

This collection of 45 sets of calligraphy concentrates on scrolls and poetic couplets by scholar-officials from Canton region dating from the late Ming dynasty to the early 20th century. It was brought together by James Hayes during his tenure in Hong Kong as a district administrator under the British Government in the 1970s and 1980s, and gifted to the Art Gallery of NSW in 2003.

The works offer an insight into China’s elite literary culture in the later Qing period (1644-1912) among scholar-officials who were also calligraphers, painters, poets and philosophers of note. Some men were well-known figures and were more important as government officials than as calligraphers, but such was the aura surrounding high office that, in keeping with the social and artistic practices of their times, their brushwork was in demand among their friends and subordinates.

XU Shichang (1856-1939), last piece of a set of four scrolls, gift of James Hayes 2003

23 Sep – 27 Nov 2005

Free admission

Upper Asian gallery