The controversial painter Dong Qichang (1555–1626) is alternately regarded as the greatest artist in Chinese history or simply clumsy with the brush. “Understanding the Master: Dong Qichang and His Circle” confronts Dong’s complexity by offering a rich selection of his works, centering on the famous sketchbook where he first tested his ideas. These deceptively simple sketches of rocks and trees provide a rare glimpse into Dong’s analytical method and serve as a key to appreciating his mature works, which are also on view in the gallery. In addition, paintings by Dong’s friends and followers in this exhibition provide critical context for understanding the great master.

This exhibition is co-curated by MFA staff and Lizhong Ling, visiting curator of Chinese paintings from the Shanghai Museum. Lizhong Ling’s fellowship at the MFA was funded by the American Friends of the Shanghai Museum.