The Yuan dynasty marked a revolution in Chinese painting, a change that can be ascribed to two contingent factors. The first was the demise of court patronage, and with it a major source of support and training for professional artists. As a result of this demise, the literati began to paint for one another, collecting and writing on each other's works. Such works now form the major corpus of paintings that survive from the Yuan and later periods.
The dominant artist of the early Yuan dynasty was Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). Some of his most accomplished paintings are on view in the exhibition. Not only a gifted painter, Zhao was also a scholar-writer, and his calligraphy served as a model for generations of artists in the centuries that followed.
The paintings and calligraphies presented span the entire Mongol-Yuan period, from the mid-thirteenth century—when the Mongols were in North China, before the unification of the country under Khubilai—to the end of the Yuan dynasty, when most artists resided in areas around the southern city of Hangzhou.