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Fan painting - Pipa Song - detail of inscription

by Wang Su (1794-1877)

Abstract

Woman with pipa in a boat. Wang Su was well known in his day, and his work has appeared in recent exhibitions. He lived through the tumultuous mid-century era when the Opium War and Taiping rebellion wrecked havoc across the land. His nephew, a student of his, died in the rebellion. Brown says that Wang Su was "…not known for his native talent, either in painting or in calligraphy, yet he was able to overcome his deficiencies through industry and diligence." Conscious of the expectation that successful painters have literary skills, he developed a minor reputation in poetry and attached long inscriptions on some of his paintings. Wang Su was known for his figure paintings, often in the style of Gai Qi and Fei Danxiu, two well-known figure painters of the middle Qing. As in the painting in the Henricksen collection, this one has a melancholy air about it, and probably refers to the famous Tang dynasty poem, The Pipa Song, written by Bai Zhuyi in 816. The poem recounts an event in which Bai Zhuyi travelled to Xunyang and visited with a friend on his boat. From across the waters came the sound of the pipa, the Chinese lute, played with surpassing skill. Both men knew that only a musician trained in the capital could play so well. It turned out the player was a courtesan, grown old and now unwanted. She joined the men on the boat and played for them. The event was a favorite subject for artists, and evoked the passing of time and the fading of earthly pleasures. The subject is properly identified as an illustration to the poem Pipa Song.

Note

Materials may be used for educational, non-commercial purposes only. Acknowledgement to be given to the ASIANetwork-Luce Asian Art in the Undergraduate Curriculum Project and to the college from whose collection the work comes. The individual college retains copyright to the work.

Administrative Notes

Materials may be used for educational, non-commercial purposes only. Acknowledgement to be given to the ASIANetwork-Luce Asian Art in the Undergraduate Curriculum Project and to the college from whose collection the work comes. The individual college retains copyright to the work.

Copyright
Copyright restrictions apply.
Publisher
Washington and Lee University
PID
coccc:24967