In these two stunning exhibitions from the National Museum of China, see imperial treasures from two millennia of Chinese civilisation and the revolutionary art of a modern master from China’s turbulent 20th century.
One ticket gives you entry to both Throne of Emperors and Shi Lu: A revolution in paint.
|Friend of Te Papa (adult)||$8|
|Children 15 and under||Free|
* Available to full-time students, SuperGold Card holders and Community Service Card holders
Buy your tickets online to avoid queues. Tickets are also available at the Museum.
About Throne of Emperors
Imperial China lasted over 2,000 years – far longer than the Roman or British empires. Over that period, many powerful emperors reigned: some visionary, some militaristic, some harsh, and some refined. Throne of Emperors explores the lives of seven of the most important who, through their unique personalities and talents, left their mark on China and the world.
From the reign of Qin, First Emperor, (250–210BCE) to the overthrow of the last emperor in 1911, these leaders held sway over China’s vast, growing, and multi-ethnic society. They ruled over cycles of change – political, religious and social – and over dramatic periods of unification, exploration, trade and innovation. These Sons of Heaven – as the emperors were called – were major shapers of history, well aware of the social responsibility they carried.
Through a selection of artefacts rarely seen outside the National Museum of China, Throne of Emperors traces these cycles of unity and in-fighting, stability and change, harmony and rebellion of the empire.
First Emperor, Qin, was one of many leaders whose rule was marked by military might. A bronze military tally, made in two halves, ensured that only authorized people could mobilise the emperor’s armies.
Bronze tiger-shaped military tally, Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE), National Museum of China
The emperors of the Tang dynasty oversaw the movement of trade, people and ideas between the east and the west, along the bustling Silk Road, where camels carried the goods of Chinese and foreign traders alike.
Foreigner on camelback. Tang dynasty (618–907). National Museum of China
Genghis Khan and his descendents from Mongolia conquered first China, then vast territories of Asia and Eastern Europe, in a series of brilliant but brutal military campaigns. China became the largest land empire ever to exist.
Genghis Khan, artist unknown. Ming dynasty (1368–1644). National Museum of China
The cultured Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799) was a great military strategist and patron of the arts. But corruption and conflict in the later years of his rule sowed the seeds that would result in the end of imperial China.
The Qianlong Emperor (detail), artist unknown. Qing dynasty (1644–1911). National Museum of China
The Qianlong Emperor acquired vast art collections for his sumptuous palaces, and his imperial workshops produced goods, including exquisite porcelain, of exceptional quality.
Porcelain zun (vessel), Qing dynasty (1644–1911). National Museum of China
Successive dynasties of emperors ruled over centuries of development and refinement of art and technology. Pottery figures from ancient tombs, a model of a powerful paddle-wheel warship, symbolically-laden hairpins for wives and concubines, and fine ink scrolls demonstrate the extraordinary achievements of the Chinese empire.
The last Chinese emperor abdicated in 1911, leading to a period of change. China’s story continues in the associated art exhibition Shi Lu: A revolution in paint, where the chosen names of artist Shi (tradition) Lu (modernity) capture China’s challenge of reconciling its past and present.
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About Shi Lu: A revolution in paint
Shi Lu (1919–82) was a modern master of Chinese painting and calligraphy, who maintained his unique artistic vision during a time of political and cultural revolution. ‘One of my hands stretches into tradition,’ he wrote, ‘the other stretches into life.’
Shi Lu paints a lotus flower, 1981. Image courtesy of Shi Lu’s family
Shi Lu: A revolution in paint presents a fascinating overview of Shi Lu’s art and life, set against the background of China’s 20th century. It is the first major exhibition of this significant artist’s work in Australasia.
Spread over five sections, the exhibition features over 100 ink paintings, woodcuts, and calligraphic works, as well as video footage of the master at work, a stunning photographic record of his life, and more.
An artist for the revolution
In 1939, Shi Lu left his family and journeyed to Yan’an, the birthplace of the Communist Revolution. Like other revolutionary artists, he experimented with a wide range of styles. But in the mid 1950s, he returned to his roots in guohua (traditional Chinese painting), depicting a nation in the throes of transformation.
Shi Lu, Labour-exchange team, 1950, Chinese painting on paper, National Museum of China, gift of Shi Lu's family, 2012
In the late 1950s, Shi Lu led the emergence of a distinctive school of landscape painting in the ancient imperial capital of Xi’an. Some criticised his style as ‘wild, strange, chaotic, and dark’. But Shi Lu was unapologetic: ‘People laugh at me for being dark, but it is not dark enough.’
Shi Lu, Harvesting the hay, 1964, Chinese painting on paper. National Museum of China, gift of Shi Lu's family, 2012
Standing on the precipice
At the height of his success, Shi Lu was commissioned to make a major historical painting to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Fighting in northern Shaanxi (1959) marked the pinnacle of Shi Lu’s artistic achievement. It was also his downfall.
Shi Lu, Fighting in northern Shaanxi, 1959, Chinese painting on paper. National Museum of China, gift of Shi Lu's family, 2012
Spirit kings and holy sages
As the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) took hold, Shi Lu was imprisoned and brutally persecuted. His political fall coincided with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In 1970, during a period of acute illness, he took his earlier travel sketches and transformed them with enigmatic inscriptions, creating his own mystical – and defiant – world.
Shi Lu, Indian mother and daughter, 1955 (revised 1970), Chinese painting on paper. National Museum of China, gift of Shi Lu's family, 2012
An orchid thriving in poor soil
In the 1970s, calligraphy allowed Shi Lu to merge poetry with an expressive and intensely personal artistic style, liberated from the requirements of official policy. For a time, he was denigrated as the country’s ‘Number One Black Painter’. Later, his stubbornly individualistic style would seal his reputation as one of China’s modern masters.
Shi Lu, Orchid growing on a cliff, 1972, Chinese painting on paper, National Museum of China, gift of Shi Lu's family, 2012
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Alongside Throne of Emperors and Shi Lu: A revolution in paint, Te Papa’s Education Team is offering a range of programmes for primary and secondary students and their teachers.
Te Papa’s China education programme is proudly supported by the New Zealand China Friendship Society.
China at Te Papa – view education programmes
These exhibitions were jointly developed by the National Museum of China and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.