In 1998, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art acquired a large number of paintings and works of calligraphy by Chinese artist Bada Shanren (1626–1705)—one of the most renowned and influential individualist painters and calligraphers of the early Qing dynasty (1644–1912). “In Pursuit of Heavenly Harmony: Paintings and Calligraphy by Bada Shanren (1626–1705) from the Bequest of Wang Fangyu and Sum Wai,” was on view at the gallery from April 26 to Oct. 12, and presented all 33 of these works, which were obtained through a bequest and purchase from the estate of Fred Fangyu Wang (Wang Fangyu 1913–1997) and his wife, Sum Wai (1918–1996).
A professor of Chinese language at Yale University, Wang was one of the most prominent modern Bada Shanren scholars. Together with his wife, Wang assembled the largest and most important private collection of Bada’s works in the world. Included in this exhibition are paintings from the core of Professor Wang’s collection representing various stages of the artist’s life.
Bada Shanren, whose true name is unknown, was born in 1626 to a branch of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) imperial family renowned for its artistic talent. Bada began writing poetry at an early age and showed early promise as a calligrapher and painter. After the fall of the Ming dynasty however, he sought refuge and anonymity as a Buddhist monk, eventually rising to the post of abbot. Bada suffered an apparent mental breakdown in the late 1670s and left the priesthood, becoming a professional painter and adopting the pseudonym “Bada Shanren.” In the early 1700s, though continuing to paint, Bada became a hermit, seeking solitude and harmony with the natural order ordained by heaven.