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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Lady Reclining on a bench in a garden
    Fan painting - Lady Reclining on a bench in a garden by Xiaoyu, or the Lady Feng [?]

    Paintings of both men and women in gardens. A part of the iconography of the most images of women in the gardens is the wall, signifying that she was in a space enclosed. The identification of this woman is uncertain. Xiaoyu is taken from a seal, and the second character of the name (after Feng) is unclear, although even if it were readable there seems to be no likely woman artist with a first character Feng in her name in the dictionary. She does say that she did the work in Shanghai, and since women traveled little, this is likely where she lived. There are many paintings of both men and women in gardens. It is interesting that a part of the iconography of most images of women in gardens is the wall, signifying that she was in a space enclosed, a space that belonged to someone else, and by extension she was property within that space. Perhaps only in dreams could one escape. This work is competent, but not too impressive in either its brushwork or composition.

  • 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 - The Lute Song - detail of seal at lower right
    Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of seal at lower right by Shen Yuebin (act.1820-1850)

    A single woman in her boat and two men in theirs, both placed along the banks of the river. The identification of the artist is tentative at best, and rests on the interpretation of the character Yi. Yilou is the pen name of Shen Yuebin, who exists only as a single entry in the dictionary of artist's names. The entry states he was known for his regular script, but does not mention painting. Nevertheless, the careful organization of the composition and the meticulous brushwork in an almost miniature scene implies someone who could work with a similar approach in calligraphy. All elements in this scene refer to the story of the Lute Song: the single woman in her boat and the two men in theirs, both placed along the banks of the river. By laying out the banks of the river as overlapping spits of land separated by wide expanses of water, the artist introduces an aura of emptiness and melancholy that suits the story well. This is an innovative approach to an event often depicted.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of central male figures
    Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of central male figures by Shen Yuebin (act.1820-1850)

    A single woman in her boat and two men in theirs, both placed along the banks of the river. The identification of the artist is tentative at best, and rests on the interpretation of the character Yi. Yilou is the pen name of Shen Yuebin, who exists only as a single entry in the dictionary of artist's names. The entry states he was known for his regular script, but does not mention painting. Nevertheless, the careful organization of the composition and the meticulous brushwork in an almost miniature scene implies someone who could work with a similar approach in calligraphy. All elements in this scene refer to the story of the Lute Song: the single woman in her boat and the two men in theirs, both placed along the banks of the river. By laying out the banks of the river as overlapping spits of land separated by wide expanses of water, the artist introduces an aura of emptiness and melancholy that suits the story well. This is an innovative approach to an event often depicted.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of signature and seal.
    Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of signature and seal. by Chen Xi

    Ten uneven lines of regular/running calligraphy, alternating between lines of six and two characters/ After this is a block of text with six lines in smaller characters of the same type. The last two lines contain the dedication, date and signature. Chen Xi is identified through his pen name, Lianting. In addition to calligraphy, he painted portraits, plum blossoms and bamboo. Sirén says that he was a pupil of Liang Tongshu (1723-1815), a well-known late eighteenth century calligrapher. Liang Tongshu lived a long life, and it is quite possible that a student of his was already active in 1770, but equally possible that a student that he took on late in life could have survived him by fifteen years, so two possible dates are given. The dedication, including the standard phrase "…XX sanxiong daren yashu" (for the elegant perusal of the honored XX third brother) is common in the nineteenth century, but far less so in the eighteenth. This is not an ironclad rule, but perhaps puts slightly more weight on the later date. Whatever the date, this fan is one of the oldest in the collection. It does have a good deal of wear, and some characters are abraded to the point of invisibility. Liang Tongshu's calligraphy is certainly more impressive than this example, but one sees here some of the balance between freedom of brush and tightness of structure for which Tongshu was famous. Some characters, however, fall below this bar. In a generation, one might possibly have a specialized exhibition on Liang Tongshu, his circle and his students.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script
    Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script by Zhang Zao, The Lady Lang Fang

    55 lines of tiny regular script, alternating between lines with 16 characters and lines with 6 characters, altogether 610 characters, followed by a line with dedication and signature in even smaller characters. A standard source mentions a woman artist named Zhang Zao, with the pen name Lanfang, who was the wife of a man named Shen. No dates are given for her, and the two possible dates given above within the repeating 60 year cycle are in keeping with the majority of fans in this collection that date from the nineteenth century. An attribution such as this must remain tentative until additional examples of the person's work can be located. Although a number of women artists achieved some level of fame in the Qing dynasty, most were known only through the name of the man they served or to whom they were married. One can only marvel at the extraordinary levels of skill and concentration to which these hundreds of tiny characters attest. One mistake and one had to begin again. At the same time, they are far removed from qualities like freedom and expressiveness, and suggest other skills such as embroidery and weaving for which many women were famous. To be capable of such work, the woman must have had a long period of training in calligraphy, and was most probably very literate, as suggested by the meaning of her name Zao (accomplished in literature). It would be useful to find out more about her.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape by Cao Zhibo, Ke Jiusi, Zhang Yu and Ni Can

    Landscape with calligraphy by multiple artists. There are two inscriptions on the fan, the one at top is probably by the artist, whose name I cannot read. This inscription is dated to 1852. The colophon at top begins with a litany of the famous landscape artists of the Yuan dynasty: Cao Zhibo, Ke Jiusi, Zhang Yu, and Ni Can. Elements of the design do suggest Cao Zhibo, the first person named. This is, in fact, a rather unusual grouping of Yuan dynasty artists. It is not that these four are unknown, but that they are not usually grouped together. Although the artist is trying, perhaps, to achieve some of the "bland" and "artless" feeling advocated by some of the Yuan artist, it is hard to argue that this fan possesses any outstanding quality. The forms are defined to vaguely and the brushwork is more sloppy than "bland." The inscription at bottom left is by a different person surnamed Li whose seal, Houan, identifies him as Li Gang, active in the late nineteenth century. His inscription is dated dinggai (1887). There is a gap of several decades between the two inscriptions, and the reasons for this may be revealed in the reading of Li's inscription.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Ma Xifan

    There are two blocks of calligraphy: on the right are six lines of clerical script with eight characters to a line, seven in the last line. On the left, a longer block in smaller regular script, eight lines with about sixteen characters to the line. Within the last line is the dedication and signature. Ma Xifan is not recorded in the sources I used. The calligraphy on the right appears to be a memorial for an individual, very likely from a Han dynasty source. It is written in a restrained clerical script, emphasizing the horizontal structure of the characters. The rounded ends of the horizontal strokes suggest similar features in the brushwork of Yang Xian (1819-1896), although there is no documentation for this connection. The calligraphy is done with some skill, and the artist must have been a person who took the art of calligraphy seriously.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - women in a garden
    Fan painting - women in a garden by Quan

    Two women, one playing a qin, the other attentive, in a garden with rocks and bamboo. The painter is not identified, and is not an artist of outstanding ability. As always, the date could be an earlier number in the 60 year cycle, but 1869 seems to fit stylistically. The main subjects, the women, are painted without any knowledge of traditional techniques for depicting drapery, and the faces are non-descript. The rock formations on which the two women sit have a liquid motion that would work well in a landscape, but not so in a garden. They relate awkwardly to the plane on which the women sit. The bamboo is better handled, but lacks energy and character. The inscription begins with a seven-character quatrain, followed by the date, dedication, and signature.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Monkey in a landscape, with insects
    Fan painting - Monkey in a landscape, with insects by Gu Yun (1835-1896)

    A pair of monkeys on the rock silhouetted against the distant mountains. Even though Gu Yun was a prolific artist, there is no clear explanation as to why there are so many of his works in this collection. This is an unusual subject, and the explanation probably lies in the colophon, not yet translated. Gu Yun's classical training is evident in the foreground rocks and trees. The composition works well, with the pair of monkeys on the rock silhouetted against the distant mountains.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script
    Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script by Langqing [?]

    Calligraphy: fourteen uneven lines of running script, alternating between lines of seven or eight characters and those of five characters. The last two lines contain the date and dedication. After this is the four character signature. Detail is of signature and seal. The writer remains unidentified, and the reading of the signature is very tentative. The calligraphy is very well done, using a very controlled running script in which only a few characters are linked.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Xu Sangeng (1826-1890)

    Excerpts from the Han dynasty stele from Jizhou dealing with Zhang Yuan. Twelve double lines followed by title, date, dedication and signature. Not much information is recorded on Xu Sangeng, and the lack of any mention of an official career means that he must have functioned as a professional artist. Nevertheless, his reputation as a seal carver and his skill in calligraphy would have earned him entry into the higher levels of society. Despite the lacunae on events in his personal life, he was a very well respected artist, especially in the area of seal carving. His reputation extended to Japan, and Japanese artists visited him and sought to study under him. His study of rubbings of monuments from the Han and Six Dynasties periods allowed him to explore the creative moments of early calligraphy, before the styles of Wang Xizhi dominated the calligraphic tradition. He was also aware of other Qing artists, and toward the middle of his career was influenced by Deng Shiru (1743-1805). This fan is a good example of his style. Although the model that he mentions in his title has not been located, the writing exemplifies his style. He plays with endings, pushing and lifting the brush to modulate the line, extending and compacting the structure of characters to find new arrangements of the parts. This is one of the better pieces of calligraphy in the collection.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with wisteria and peony
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with wisteria and peony by Unknown

    Wisteria and peony, with two blocks of calligraphy in a very small regular script to right and left. To the right are eight uneven lines followed by a seal; to the left are twelve lines varying from over twenty characters to six or seven in the shorter lines. Following this is a humble statement about the quality of the signature. The juxtaposition of the two spring flowers-wisteria at top and the peony at bottom-is unusual, and the meaning may lie hidden in the inscriptions. Neither artist nor calligrapher has been identified, and this may be intentional, especially if the artist/writer were a woman. Women in traditional culture were supposed to be self-effacing. Nevertheless, the fan is very nicely painted, both in terms of the composition and the technique. The "boneless" technique uses colored washes and no line and is used to effect here. Several other fans in the collection are also done in this manner.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Zhang Baoci (act. third quarter of 19th century)

    Five double lines followed by a conclusion and date, dedication and signature. Each line has twelve characters. Written in a running script on light brown paper. Zhang Baoci, zi Jingtang, was from Changshu in Jiangsu province and was known for his calligraphy. Hopefully examples of his work will turn up in other collections. This particular example exhibits a hesitancy in execution and heaviness in line that is not characteristic of the best calligraphy. This may be due to the model that the writer had studied. One thinks of the late Han calligrapher Zhang Zhi, whose work only exits in such copies. If one studied Zhang Zhi, one had to rely on copies made from copies, many times removed from the original. These were not able to transmit the energy of the brush strokes or even the links between strokes.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Yu, the younger [?]

    Eleven uneven lines of running script, alternating between lines of seven to eight characters and lines of three characters. After this is a block of smaller characters, seven lines with varying number of characters each. The fourth (raised) contains the dedication and the last line the date and signature. The writer has not been identified. The character di, which I have translated as "younger person," can have several meanings, all indicating a person of lower status. In a strict sense it can mean "younger brother," but it could also mean "follower" "religious follower," or just "person of lower status." The style of the script is close to that of the Song artist Su Shi, mentioned frequently in these fans. A careful translation of the fan may reveal some clues to support or refute this assumption.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Ye Yanlan (act. 1861-1908)

    Ten different inscriptions copied from Zhou, Qin and Han bronzes, with transciptions into regular script and short comments. Date and signature are at the end at far left.Ye Yanlan was active in the late nineteenth century in the Tongzhi and Guangxu eras (1861-1908), and this date falls neatly into that time. He was a native of Guangdong province, far in the South of China, and further research will have to determine whether he stayed there or had moved north into the Yangtze region. His entry in a dictionary notes his proficiency in all the standard script types, and this fan suggests that he was also a scholar of early epigraphy. This fan illustrates the antiquarian interest many scholars had in epigraphy, especially as it appeared on bronzes that were cast by the aristocracy of the earliest dynasties. At this time in the nineteenth century, the discoveries of the royal burials of the Shang dynasty at Anyang were half a century away, and although traditional histories had record of this dynasty, it was still part myth in Ye's day. For Confucius, the early kings and aristocracy of the Zhou were paragons of filial piety, and deciphering their words as they appeared on their ritual implements carried the same import as that of western scholars who investigate the Dead Sea scrolls and other early fragments of scripture. The inscriptions cover some thousand years, and some, according to Ye, are as late as the Han. In Chinese terms, this calligraphy would be in the category of "Bronze and Stone Writing" (Jinshi wen), as opposed to one of the four major script types seen on most of the fans with calligraphy. Such studies had a long history, going back into the Song dynasty, and this fan is evidence for the continuation of these traditions into the late Qing. Since Ye provides both the antique bronze form and its equivalent in regular script, students could note these comparisons and do research on similar forms in other bronzes.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar with servant in nature
    Fan painting - Scholar with servant in nature by Lianxi

    Strolling scholar accompanied by a servant carrying a qin. This unidentified artist states that he is using the model of Tang Yin (Tang Ziwei), a popular and very famous Ming dynasty calligrapher and painter. There is not way of knowing when the fan was done, but certainly by the late nineteenth-century the image of the scholar in his flowing robes with the servant carrying his qin was as anachronistic to most Chinese as it is to us. There certainly may have been a deep-seated yearning for such an idyllic world, given war, rebellion, and foreign intrusions, but such a life not to be had. The artist was trained in the conservative techniques for landscape and figure, and has not risen above his models.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Zhai Yunsheng (1776-1860)

    Twenty large clerical script characters, only two characters to a line, followed by three lines of smaller regular script characters with the date, dedication and signature. Yunsheng was one of the few artists in the collection to have attained success in the metropolitan exams and received his jinshi degree in 1822. Kuo and Sturman relate his eccentric behavior. The clerical script in this fan is close to that found in the example in Guo and Sturman. These authors note that in his writing Zhai tended to make less use of the modulated stroke found in some clerical script models, and that seems the case here. While it does appear, the overwhelming emphasis is on the horizontal lines that create a ladder-like structure. Zhai followed his teacher Gui Fu in the study of Han dynasty stelae, where the classical examples of the clerical script are to be found.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script
    Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script by Gu Yun (1835-1896) and Zhang Xiong (1803-1886)

    Painting and Calligraphy: On the right, seal script inscription and landscape by Gu Yun; on the left, clerical script inscription and flowers by Zhang Xiong. Detail is found above floral imagery by Zhang Xiong. See the other works by Gu Yun in the collection for details on his life. Zhang Xiong was an older and equally well-known artist, famed in particular for his flower paintings. As Brown says, he was a "…staunch traditionalist who defended the classical heritage." As much as or more than many of the other artists in the group he was known for his scholarly background, and his studio, the Silver Vine Blossoms Lodge, "…was so elegantly and exquisitely appointed that within its four walls there was no a single speck of dust." He was known, in particular, for the clerical script, which he uses in this fan. Fleeing before the Taiping rebels, he moved to Shanghai where his fame as scholar and artist continued. Later, he was nominated for a position at the court, but declined. The two diminutive images on this fan seem almost inconsequential, but in fact this work that documents a relationship between two important artists of the time may be one of the jewels in this collection. Gu's painting depicts an empty pavilion set before a lake with mountains on the farther shore; Zhang's crysanthemum, the flower of autumn, echoes the mood and hints at the season in which the work was done. The brushwork in Gu's painting is the most convincing of that in any of the other fans in the collection. Any Chinese connoisseur would treasure this example of Zhang Xiong's calligraphy, in which he cites a portion of a poem by the great Song dynasty literatus Su Shi, as more than just a painting. This is a wonderful work that should reward further study.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape with figures and clouds
    Fan painting - Landscape with figures and clouds by Bi Han (1731-1807)

    Two figures seated on a terrace in a desolate landscape. A large mountain rises to the rear, partly concealed by a cloud. Bi Han, zi Jiaolu, Youhan, and etc., was from Wujin in Jiangsu province and was known for his landscape painting. Although undated, given the artist's lifespan this must be one of the earliest fans in the group, probably done in the late eighteenth century. The one painting by Bi Han listed in Sirén is dated 1801 and follows Huang Gongwang, the great Yuan dynasty painter and an appropriate classic model. This work is a bit more expressionistic and unrestrained than most works of the Orthodox School. Although the artist states in the inscription that he is doing this in the manner of "men of the Yuan," there is no classic model apparent in the formation of these great stones, nor do the shrubs growing from their tops follow a familiar model. It is very strongly painted, with the very small figures on the right balanced by the large, even menacing rocks on the left. This is a very interesting work, and hopefully other works by this artist will emerge.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with cranes
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with cranes by Ye Zhi

    Cranes on the wing. The artist's surname is Ye, but the reading of both characters of his given name is unsure; several variations on the quickly written characters are possible. One possibility, relying on the seal, is that this may be an artist named Ye Zhi, pen name Shoubo, who was active in the mid nineteenth century. It is clear from the inscription that he painted the fan in Shanghai. The loose open style of the composition, the lack of a ground plane, and even the colors, have a hint of Japanese influence; there was a good deal of artistic communication between the two countries through the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scattered Vegetables - detail of seal
    Fan painting - Scattered Vegetables - detail of seal by Yao Yuanzhi (1776-1852)

    Eggplant, gourds, radishes, turnips and other vegetables, lie in an unordered composition on a surface. Some are painted in an ink outline, some with colored washes, some with both. Detail of seal at base of inscription on right of fan. The ups and down of Yao's career were in many ways typical of the careers of civil servants in these difficult years. By attaining the jinshi degree in 1805, he became one of the select few officials who would be responsible for governing the empire. It also gave him access to the highest social circles and the very best collections of painting and calligraphy. The seal with the name "Southern Studio" probably refers to the prestigious appointment Yao received to attend the Jiaqing emperor in his Southern Studio in 1809. This same seal appears on one of a pair of calligraphic scrolls in another collection. In this work he credits the painter Zhu Angzhi for inspiring his calligraphy, while elsewhere it is recorded that Zhu Ben was also a teacher. These two were popular artists in the northern capital, and so Yao is one of the few artists in the collection who seemed to have been aware of trends outside the Yangtze River area. Eggplant, gourds, radishes, turnips and other vegetables, lie in an unordered composition on a surface. Some are painted in an ink outline, some with colored washes, some with both. The loose "boneless" treatment of the vegetables, as well as the lack of structure in the calligraphy, seem at odds with the carefully constructed characters for which he was well-known, Although undated, the work was certainly done in the first half of the century, after his appointment to the Southern Studio.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with bamboo and cicadas.
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with bamboo and cicadas. by Zhang Pan (1812-after 1887)

    Bamboo and cicadas with inscription. Zhang Pan was from Dingxing in Hebei province, and held an official post in Wuding in Shandong province. He was known as a calligrapher, especially in the seal and clerical script, as well as a painter of the bird and flower category, illustrated by the present example. He worked in the manner of Yao Yuanzhi,whose work is in this collection, and the earlier Qing artist Bian Shoumin, who was famous for his paintings of geese. Zhang may well have been a student of Yao Yuanzhi, since their lives overlapped by several decades. This painting of two cicadas on a willow tree, one on the trunk and one on the slender branch is of an unusual subject, but painted with restraint and great skill. A subject such as this is ideal for the fan format, since the twisting trunk and wind-blown branches can be arranged to fit the available space. There is a resonance between the cicada, an insect associated with rejuvination and rebirth through its habit of emerging from the ground after seven years of burial, and the aged twisting trunk juxtaposed with the fresh new leaves.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Woman and scholar with a pipa
    Fan painting - Woman and scholar with a pipa by Shen Zhaohan (1856-1941)

    Playing the pipa amid the red leaves of autumn. . This fan is a particularly nice figure painting, which like his other fan in this collection, follows the approach to figure painting, especially in the faces, developed in the Shanghai area by Qian Hui'an and his followers. Despite this, Zhaohan makes allusion to an earlier Sing painter famous for his figures when he makes reference to Xinlo shanren (Hua Yan) in his inscription.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy on round fan
    Fan painting - Calligraphy on round fan by Lu [?]

    Eight lines of running script; two lines with the date and dedication. The writer has not been identified. The date could be 60 years later. The round format is not that common in the collection. Round or slightly oval fans are a much older form of fan, and examples with the calligraphy of Song Emperors survive in modern collections. The writing, in a fluid running script, is also suggestive of that era.