Equestrian collection

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2008, 12:00am

An exhibition now on at the Hong Kong Museum of Art celebrates Hong Kong's hosting of the 2008 Olympic equestrian events. Story of the Horse brings attention to the role the horse has played in Chinese art and culture over the centuries.

The show features about 40 exhibits selected from the museum's art collection. These include Chinese ceramics, bronze castings, bamboo carvings, Chinese paintings, historical pictures and modern artworks.

The wide range of art forms on display show that the horse has taken on many roles and symbolic meanings in Chinese and modern Hong Kong art. The exhibition is divided into four sections: The role of the horse in ancient China; the Chinese literati's use of horses as subjects in their paintings; the horse motif and its symbolic meanings; and the horse in modern art.

The exhibition will provide an overview of the value of the horse and how its artistic representation has evolved over time. Highlights include a Tang dynasty burial horse glazed in three colours using ancient Sancai techniques. The horse, once decorated with three flowers on its mane in the Imperial style, was modelled on Ferghana horses that were imported from central Asia and were popular with nobility during the Tang dynasty.

An engraving called Forcing the Encampment at Gadan-Ola by Giuseppe Castiglione of the Qing dynasty shows horses being ridden into battle. Castiglione excelled in painting horses and his anatomical precision, effective rendering of light and shade and three-dimensionality shows a fusion of western realism and Chinese gongbi (meticulous) brushwork.

The bamboo carving, Monkey on a Horse Carved in the Round of the Kangxi period of the Qing dynasty, is an example of a popular gift for scholars at the time as the monkey on horseback is a homophonic pun for 'quick promotion'.

The ink painting Horse Under a Tree by Zhang Mu of the Qing dynasty expresses the artist's feelings of frustration. He painted the work during turbulent times when the Qing dynasty was taking over from the Ming dynasty. From the painting the viewer can infer that the artist believed his talents were being wasted: the atmosphere of the painting is bleak, with a fine, strong horse tied to an old, withered tree.

Horse paintings by exceptional 20th-century ink painters Gao Qifeng and Xu Beihong, and a digital print The Chinese Cyclical Years by local contemporary artist Wong Chung-yu will also be on display. Wong's work uses the 12 Chinese signs of the zodiac as an analogy of historical events in mainland China. The horse here symbolises the promise made by then premier Deng Xiaoping concerning the peaceful return of Hong Kong to the mainland: 'Horse racing will go on as usual'.

Although Hong Kong lacks the vast grasslands or woods commonly associated with horse riding, the SAR has hosted horse racing events since the 1840s. Horse racing is part of the social fabric of the city, and artists still turn to the subject of horses today.

Story of the Horse runs until December 28 at the Special Exhibition Gallery on the third floor of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.