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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape by Wu Guxiang (1843-1903)

    The painting has an idyllic setting which recalls the classic heritage, and is close in its feeling to a published handscroll. Careful selection and placement of a few elements two trees, a single pavilion, a shoreline in distance to the right and few mountains and hills to the left. Soft pastel colors are used. Wu Guxiang is one of the best known painters of the late nineteenth century. He was well traveled. He began his career in Suzhou, then went to Yushan and Shanghai, eventually in 1892 heading far north to the capital in Beijing before returning again to Shanghai the following year. He was one of the few artists in the group who would have experienced the artistic climate in the capital, probably hearing about political intrigue and foreign oppression from acquaintances there. He was also able to profit from the study of older paintings in Beijing collections. Although he lived and worked in Shanghai, he was far more conservative than most artists in that city, which was more oriented to merchant taste than a classical style. In the South he was one of the "Nine Friends of Suzhou." Such groupings have appeared frequently in later Chinese art history: for example, there are the "Nine Friends of Painting," the "Four Wangs," the "Four lesser Wangs" and the "Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou." These names are convenient handles, but they often gloss over important dissimilarities in style and careers. For instance, not all of the "Nine Friends" were productive artists. In the two major lists compiled by Sirén and Laing (Laing's limited to the twentieth century), there are no entries for Wu Dacheng, Wu Guxiang, Jin Lan, or Ren Yu, and only one for Hu Xigui. The one work by Wu Dacheng I have seen is not impressive, and he may be included in the group simply because of his social stature. In contrast Sirén has more than a half dozen for Gu Yun, and Laing has dozens of entries for Ni Tian, Lu Hui, and Gu Linshi. Gu Yun, Gu Linshi, and Lu Hui are also given prominent exposure in the major exposition A Century in Crisis. In another important exhibition, Ni Tian, Wu Guxiang, Lu Hui, and Ren Yu appear. Gu Yun was well known in his day and went to Japan as a sort of "cultural envoy" where he taught painting to interested Japanese. He, Lu Hui, and Gu Linshi were known as conservative "revivalists" early in their careers, while Ni Tian and to a certain extent Ren Yu represented the more innovative and iconoclastic Shanghai school. The group obviously spans two generations-two generations in which great changes occurred in the social and political arenas. They all did know each other, and probably interacted on a frequent schedule. To return to Wu's fan: it is close in feeling to a published handscroll painted by him. Both recall his Suzhou heritage, wherein he follows a long line of artists who admired and imitated the great late Ming artist Wen Zhengming. The idyllic setting recalls this classical heritage, seen in the careful selection and placement of a few elements: two trees, a single pavilion, a shoreline in the distance to the right and a few mountains and hills to the left. Soft pastel colors, used with restraint, are also typical of this approach.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar in nature
    Fan painting - Scholar in nature by Wu Guxiang (1843-1903)

    Scholar seated on a rock beneath a pine tree. This subject has been repeated ten thousand times over the centuries: the solitary scholar communing with nature, with trees and water about him. One distinctive feature here is the scholar's hat, which suggests a Korean costume. Again, the colophon may contain some answers.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar in nature - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Scholar in nature - detail of inscription by Wu Guxiang (1843-1903)

    Scholars seated on a rock beneath a pine tree. This subject has been repeated ten thousand times over the centuries: the solitary scholar communing with nature, with trees and water about him. One distinctive feature here is the scholar's hat, which suggests a Korean costume. Again, the colophon may contain some answers.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy by Wu Guxiang (1843-1903)

    The painting has an idyllic setting which recalls the classic heritage, and is close in its feeling to a published handscroll. Careful selection and placement of a few elements two trees, a single pavilion, a shoreline in distance to the right and few mountains and hills to the left. Soft pastel colors are used. Wu Guxiang is one of the best known painters of the late nineteenth century. He was well traveled. He began his career in Suzhou, then went to Yushan and Shanghai, eventually in 1892 heading far north to the capital in Beijing before returning again to Shanghai the following year. He was one of the few artists in the group who would have experienced the artistic climate in the capital, probably hearing about political intrigue and foreign oppression from acquaintances there. He was also able to profit from the study of older paintings in Beijing collections. Although he lived and worked in Shanghai, he was far more conservative than most artists in that city, which was more oriented to merchant taste than a classical style. In the South he was one of the "Nine Friends of Suzhou." Such groupings have appeared frequently in later Chinese art history: for example, there are the "Nine Friends of Painting," the "Four Wangs," the "Four lesser Wangs" and the "Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou." These names are convenient handles, but they often gloss over important dissimilarities in style and careers. For instance, not all of the "Nine Friends" were productive artists. In the two major lists compiled by Sirén and Laing (Laing's limited to the twentieth century), there are no entries for Wu Dacheng, Wu Guxiang, Jin Lan, or Ren Yu, and only one for Hu Xigui. The one work by Wu Dacheng I have seen is not impressive, and he may be included in the group simply because of his social stature. In contrast Sirén has more than a half dozen for Gu Yun, and Laing has dozens of entries for Ni Tian, Lu Hui, and Gu Linshi. Gu Yun, Gu Linshi, and Lu Hui are also given prominent exposure in the major exposition A Century in Crisis. In another important exhibition, Ni Tian, Wu Guxiang, Lu Hui, and Ren Yu appear. Gu Yun was well known in his day and went to Japan as a sort of "cultural envoy" where he taught painting to interested Japanese. He, Lu Hui, and Gu Linshi were known as conservative "revivalists" early in their careers, while Ni Tian and to a certain extent Ren Yu represented the more innovative and iconoclastic Shanghai school. The group obviously spans two generations-two generations in which great changes occurred in the social and political arenas. They all did know each other, and probably interacted on a frequent schedule. To return to Wu's fan: it is close in feeling to a published handscroll painted by him. Both recall his Suzhou heritage, wherein he follows a long line of artists who admired and imitated the great late Ming artist Wen Zhengming. The idyllic setting recalls this classical heritage, seen in the careful selection and placement of a few elements: two trees, a single pavilion, a shoreline in the distance to the right and a few mountains and hills to the left. Soft pastel colors, used with restraint, are also typical of this approach.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar in nature - detail of scholar figure
    Fan painting - Scholar in nature - detail of scholar figure by Wu Guxiang (1843-1903)

    Scholars seated on a rock beneath a pine tree. This subject has been repeated ten thousand times over the centuries: the solitary scholar communing with nature, with trees and water about him. One distinctive feature here is the scholar's hat, which suggests a Korean costume. Again, the colophon may contain some answers.