Travel in Taiwan Museums

The National Palace Museum: 70 Years Young!

By J. F. Keating Photos courtesy the National Palace Museum



"Departure of the Venetian Duke's Ship," by Francesco Guardi(1712-1793).

A birthday is a special occasion, and that of the National Palace Museum is no exception. This year, it celebrates its 70th anniversary. The museum opened on October 10, 1925 in the Forbidden City in Peking, at a time when the Republic of China was in its fledgling years, making the treasures of the Chinese imperial collection accessible to the common person for the first time. Since then, they have traveled many miles and experienced much turmoil to reach their present location.



"Memory of Murtefontaine," by Jean-Baptiste Corot(1796-1875).

In 1933 a perilous journey began for some 200,000 priceless objects, the core of the present museum. They were spirited away in the dead of night because of the growing threat of Japanese expansionism and war. Their odyssey would finally end in Taipei, some 32 years and thousands of miles later. The journey, which is a story in itself, took the collection through such cities as Shanghai, Nanking, Kweiyang, Paochi in Shensi province, Chengtu in Szechwan province, and Omei. Now, to celebrate not only its history but its endurance, the museum is offering an outstanding number of special exhibitions and rare treasures for those who wish to join the celebration.

Age is a matter of perspective, and each birthday is a call for celebration. But 70 is a good round number and is perhaps auspicious for such a sturdy collection. In this year's birthday presentation, the museum has something from all periods of its collection for every type of visitor: researchers, historians, painting enthusiasts, calligraphers, even tourists.

Seven Centuries of Art



Green jade "Ju-i" sceptor,(Ching dynasty).

Showing since January are exhibits of circular jades and Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial objects. The circular jades date from the Neolithic age to the Han dynasty, roughly covering the period of 5000 B.C. to A.D. 220. Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial objects reflect the long history of the relationship between the Tibetan religious community and the Ching imperial court when ornate, lavish gifts were exchanged and the Ching imperial family built many Buddhist temples in Peking and at Jehol, the summer capital.

For those interested in calligraphy and painting, two outstanding exhibits are available in the latter part of 1995. One displays 70 "Celebrated Album Leaves from the Sung Dynasty," including both the complex and solid works of the Northern Sung with their heavy brushwork and the more nebulous and spiritual works of the Southern Sung style with their quick, fluent brushwork.

The other show is of 70 "restricted" masterpieces of calligraphy and painting, including Fan Kuan's "Travelers among Mountains and Streams," Kuo Hsi's "Early Spring" and Lie Tang's "Soughing Wind Among Mountain Pines." These works are normally shown 20 at a time, once every three years. Now viewers can see all 60 plus 10 additional works side by side in one showing.

Historians of the development of the book in Chinese culture can trace its progression in an exhibit that goes back over 5000 years as it evolved from scrolls, leaves, sutra binding, and several other bindings to the paperback and hardcover bindings of today. The wide range of materials that ancient books were written on include such unusual substances as pottery, animal bones, turtle shells, bamboo, silk, and other strange things. Near this will be another special exhibition of rare printed editions of the Sung and Yuan dynasties. These printed editions are of particular value: they were published nearly the same time as the originals, which helps establish the textual authenticity of the literary works.

Who does not want good fortune, long life, health, and serenity? And what more pleasant way to learn what are considered the auspicious designs of such qualities than to see them in the special exhibit of exquisite porcelains of the Ming and Ching dynasties? Both practical and ornamental pieces with these allegorical patterns of good fortune can delight the eye and at the same time illustrate the stylistic development of porcelain through the Chia-ching period of the Ming dynasty (1522 A.D.) to the end of the Chien-lung period of the Ching dynasty (1795 A.D.).

The Coup de Grace



"Hundred Deer" vase,(Ming dynasty).

Then there is western art. But in the National Palace Museum? Originals of great western art are rarely seen in Taiwan. But much in keeping with its current progressive and expansionist philosophy, the museum has gone out of its way to bring in such treasures. The coup de grace for this year's celebration will be a special exhibition of 71 of the Louvre Museum's collection of classic paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Running from September 17 through December 31, this exhibit spans representative movements such as Neo-Classicism and Romanticism.

The exhibit includes works by the aristocratic Titian who painted the vigorous color and the splendor and drama of the Baroque age, and the classicist Poussin who expressed the nobility of mankind in a logical and orderly way while going against the grain of the Rococo period in which he lived. In his century, Poussin is considered the greatest painter France produced. Also included are the romantic paintings by Delacroix with their bold colors, dashing encounters, sweeping lines, and subjects fit for adventurous tales.

Finally, the museum gives credit to many other groups and occasions through a special exhibit of fine works of art donated to the museum, a special exhibit of jades from Taiwan's private collections illustrating a new breed of connoisseurs and collectors here, and an exhibit entitled "Creating From Tradition: A Taste of Our Modern Art," which links historical and present forms of expression.

For those looking for something to add to their own personal library of Chinese culture and art history, there is a further exhibit illustrating all the publications by the National Palace Museum, including the 67-volume series called "Five Thousand Years of Chinese Art" and the 15-volume series, "Chinese Art in Overseas Collections." With its rotating collections of the rare treasures of past emperors, the National Palace Museum is worth seeing at any time. But for its 70th birthday, there is all the more reason to join in the celebration.

How to Get There



"Bowl with Three Rams," (Ming dynasty).

Located in Waishuanghsi, a northern suburb of Taipei, the National Palace Museum can be reached by taxi or public bus. Take bus no. 210, 213, 255, 267, or 304. Tours are available in Chinese, English, Japanese, and French. Check with the information desk for availability.


Travel in Taiwan Museums
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.