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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Flowers
    Fan painting - Flowers by Ren Yu (1853-1901)

    Peony flowers and rose mallow with inscription. This is the one of two fans by Ren Yu in the collection. Ren Yu's career is well documented, in part because he was the son of the earliest and most important of the Shanghai school painters, Ren Xiong (1823-1857). One can see from the dates that Ren Yu was only four when his father died, and he and his siblings would have turned to family for help, especially to his uncle Ren Xun, whose works are also in this collection. Perhaps because of the fame of his family, perhaps because of his own character, Ren Yu became a bit of an eccentric or, as Brown says, "lackadaisical, lazy, careless and unrestrained." He was addicted to opium and his work was at times done under the influence of the drug and suffered from this. Despite this, admirers sought him out and paid handsomely for a work from his brush. This fan, according to Ren Yu's inscription, is painted in the manner of Yun Shouping (Nantian Caoyi), a well-known painter of flowers from the early years of the Qing dynasty. It uses the "boneless" method, in which colored washes with little or no ink line create the image.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar on donkey
    Fan painting - Scholar on donkey by Ren Yu (1853-1901)

    Scholar on a donkey crossing a bridge with a backdrop of mountains. This is one of two fans in the collection by this artist. This fan has a very odd shape, one that I have not seen before, and one wonders if it has not been cut down from perhaps an ovoid shape. Ren Yu became much more of a conservative artist than the other members of his family. This fan is a good example of that, and the elements of the landscape come out of the orthodox tradition going back to the Four Wangs of the early Sing. The sense of space is particularly well-handled, with a foreground, middle ground, and deep distance all present in this tiny format. It is easy to think of this as routine, but in fact it takes a great deal of skill to make this work well. The painting of the donkey does seem a bit strained, and this may not have been Ren Yu's strong point.