The Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou is a group of painters active in Yangzhou during the reigns of the Qing dynasty emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. Appearing earliest in Wang Yun’s Record of Painters in Yangzhou, their works and activities have subsequently been documented in publications such as Ling Xia’s Song of the Eight Eccentrics, Li Yufen’s Record of Ming and Qing Calligraphers and Painters, Ge Sitong’s Addendum to the Record of Calligraphy and Painting at the Airiyin Studio, Huang Binghong’s Painting Along the History, and Chen Hengke’s The History of Chinese Painting among other notable art historical writings. These records vary in their evaluation of the Eight Eccentrics as well as on which individuals were actually involved in the group. One can infer that the Eight Eccentrics did not have any agreed-upon fixed members, and therefore, it is possible to place all fifteen artists mentioned by the above six authors under the umbrella of “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou,” listed in order of age as follows: Chen Zhuan, Hua Yan, Gao Fenghan, Bian Shoumin, Li Shan, Wang Shishen, Huang Shen, Jin Nong, Gao Xiang, Li Mian, Zheng Xie, Yang Fa, Li Fangying, Min Zhen, and Luo Pin.
The calligraphy and paintings of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou drew influence from traditional literati freehand brushwork while altering and creating new methods according to their idiosyncratic aesthetics and characters, forming distinctive, unforgettable personal styles.
The Eccentrics painted calligraphies and calligraphed paintings. They sublimated folk tunes and mundane affairs into poetry and painting and, at the same time, popularized old literati paintings of the scholarly elite to the taste of the everyday folk. As a result, literati paintings also expanded their subject matter to embrace the warmth of a worldly life awash in hustle and bustle. They were the secularizer of literati painting—stirring passion in the aloof and eremitic world of literati culture—refreshing it with a new face.
This exhibition of masterpieces by the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou is divided into two installments, displaying more than one hundred pieces or sets of fine works from the Yudetang collection. Works by each member of the Eight Eccentrics are shown as a unit covering the categories of calligraphy, painting, and studio objects. With a rich array of contents, styles, and demeanors that range from ancient and rustic, subtle and refined, to cool and strange, splashed down and speckled across, the selections not only display renown representative works of the Yangzhou Eccentrics but also their lesser seen pieces and rarer depicted subjects. The exhibition presents the group’s creative skills, individual styles, and artistic conceptions from a well-rounded, multi-angled viewpoint. As the viewers enter the worlds of these unique artists from two and a half centuries ago, they will gain knowledge, joy, and insight in appraising and appreciating this exquisite collection of artworks.
— Xiao Ping