In 1644, the Manchus, a semi-nomadic people from northeast of the Great Wall, conquered the crumbling Ming state and established their own Qing (or Pure) dynasty, which lasted nearly 300 years. During the first half of this period, the Manchus extended their rule over a vast empire that grew to encompass new territories in Central Asia, Tibet, and Siberia. The Manchus also established their hegemony over Chinese cultural traditions as an important means of demonstrating their legitimacy as Confucian-style rulers.
The brilliant reigns of the Kangxi (r. 1662–1722) and Qianlong (r. 1736–95) emperors display a period when the Manchus embraced Chinese cultural traditions and the court became a leading patron in the arts as China enjoyed an extended period of political stability and economic prosperity.
Three principal groups of artists were working during the Qing: the traditionalists, who sought to revitalize painting through the creative reinterpretation of past models; the individualists, who practiced a deeply personal form of art that often carried a strong message of political protest; and the courtiers, the officials, and the professional artists who served at the Manchu court.
Hearn, Maxwell K. “The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): Painting.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/qing_1/hd_qing_1.htm (October 2003)
Barnhart, Richard M., et al. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. New Haven and Beijing: Yale University Press and Foreign Languages Press, 1997.
Barnhart, Richard M., Wen C. Fong, and Maxwell K. Hearn. Mandate of Heaven: Emperors and Artists in China: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exhibition catalogue. Zürich: Museum Rietberg, 1996.
Cahill, James. Chinese Painting. Geneva: Skira, 1960.