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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting -  Boats on a lake beneath a temple - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Boats on a lake beneath a temple - detail of inscription by Xu Guanhai

    Calligraphy found to right of landscape with indistinct background and mist filled shoreline with temple roof emerging from the trees. The artist is known only from an entry in the dictionary, which says that he was from Shangyu in Zhejiang province and known for calligraphy as well as for painting orchids and naturalistic scenes, which usually meant still life or bird and flower themes. He was a provincial graduate in 1760, so the date of 1806 could fit within his later years. There is a certain antique feeling in this work in that the indistinct background and mist filled shoreline with the temple roof emerging from the trees harks back to the Southern Song and the Ma-Xia School. Even the style of the temple architecture imitates that found in these earlier paintings, as does the "one corner" composition with most of the visual weight placed to one side. This is somewhat surprising, since by the early Qing the more orthodox painters did not think much of these earlier masters.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Fruit and mushrooms
    Fan painting - Fruit and mushrooms by Zhou Xian (1820-1875)

    Fruited branch and mushrooms. Zhou Xian is another artist that is well represented in modern literature. Like so many of the others in the collection, Zhou lived through the difficult years of the Taiping rebellion and ended up in Shanghai, forsaking an official career. The technique used for leaves and fruit, as well as the mushrooms, can be compared with that used by Yao Yuanzhi. These different elements were done quickly, and the successful outcome is due to long practice. Andrews illustrates a very similar technique in a fan painting of wisteria.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape by Zheng Shifang

    Landscape in the style of Dong Yuan. Dense piled up mountains on the right and distant vista on the left, complete with architecture and a single walking figure. The identification of the artist is based on the pen name he uses. Liutian is Zheng Shifang, a native of Licheng in Shandong province. One of the few northerners in this collection, there are many reasons why he might have been in the south, perhaps on an administrative assignment, perhaps as a clerk for a more famous official. No dates are given, or other details on his career, other than the fact he was known for landscape. That is easy to accept, and while a tentative nineteenth-century date is appropriate given his inclusion in this collection, the style of the work could easily date it to the previous century. In contrast to the style of Shen Zhaohan, this landscape painting is redolent of the classical orthodox school of the early Qing. The composition, with its dense piled-up mountains on the right and distant vista on the left, complete with architecture and a single walking figure, creates a grand world in this tiny space. The artist's erudition is emphasized by his reference to stylistic precedent in the Five Dynasties artist Dong Yuan (Dong Beiyuan), and he says he is seeking out the "hoary force of his qi." The long stringy strokes that texture the mountains also evoke this heritage.

  • 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 paingint - Landscape after Huang Gongwang - detail of inscription
    Fan paingint - Landscape after Huang Gongwang - detail of inscription by Gu Linshi (1865-1930)

    Pavilion over the water and the complex of distant mountains with the lines of coniferous trees, can be found in the most famous work of Huang. Foreground scenes of trees and pavilion, mountains to the left. Gu Linshi was by far the oldest of the group known as the "Nine Friends" of Suzhou, and his contribution was to carry the ideas and training of that generation into the twentieth century (see comments on the group under Fan #2). In the literature, Gu is discussed in combination with Lu Hui (1851-1920) (not represented in this collection), as artists who insisted on an awareness and respect for past traditions even as they forged new stylistic expressions. His standing is suggested by the inclusion of one of his works in the "Century in Crisis" exhibition, a work in the style of the late Yuan artist Xu Ben. Andrews recounts how Lu Hui and Gu Linshi, along with other Suzhou painters, emphasized the importance of traditional styles, although they knew and interacted with more iconoclastic painters from Shanghai. Gu and Wu Dacheng, a "rising political figure, …scholar, collector, calligrapher and amateur painter," organized the Yiyuan huaji, a painting society, at Gu's home in 1891. Gu was therefore a pivotal figure in an extended group of artists that included many of the names in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gu came from an established family, and his grandfather Gu Wenbin (1811-1889) owned "…one of the most important collections in Suzhou at the time." His interest in and expertise on earlier artists is documented in the painting referred to above. There are more than thirty works by him referenced in Laing's lists of twentieth-century artists, testifying to his stature and popularity in his day. Gu says in his inscription that this fan is in the manner of the great Yuan master Huang Gongwang. It is not clear which specific painting of Huang's Gu is referring to, but elements in the composition, specifically the pavilion over the water and the complex of distant mountains with the lines of coniferous trees, can be found in the most famous work by Huang, the Fuchun Mountain Scroll. The manipulation of space is done well, with the foreground scene of trees and pavilion used as a repoussoire, so that the mountains to the left recede effectively into the distance. The classical reference fits well into the kind of paintings Gu did.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy by Datong

    A dense landscape with a stream on the right and the houses to the rear. On the left, two large pines overhang a pavilion in which a scholar sits, presumably writing a letter. The name of this artist does not appear in standard sources. This is a very competent, even ambitious, work. As the title suggests, the scholar in the hut is "composing a scented letter among streams and mountains." On the left, two large pines overhang a pavilion in which a scholar sits, presumably writing a letter. The dense landscape with a stream on the right and houses to the rear suggests a precedent in the Yuan dynasty masters Wang Meng or Huang Gongwang, although there is no specific clue in the inscription. This is a very good artist, and in time he will be identified.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy by Gu Yun (1835-1896)

    A round fan with a single large pine to the right, partly obscuring a complex buildings. A single figure is placed before a long table seen through the open window of tall structure at left center. A single peak is in the left distance. Gu Yun is one of the best-documented artists in the collection, and information on his career can be found in several publications. There are five fans in this collection signed by the artist, and this provides an interesting opportunity to compare the brush manner and calligraphy of a single individual over time. While there are many precedents in the classical past for these standard elements of trees, houses, and distant mountains, the somewhat aggressive pine tree that dominates the paintings suggests some elements of the Shanghai school. The brushwork is quiet, however, and reminds one of Gu's conservative beginnings.

  • 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 - Man reading resting on a rock
    Fan painting - Man reading resting on a rock by Ni Tian (1853-1919)

    A single figure, seated but leaning to the left and with elbows resting on a large rock, reads a book. The large rock takes up the entire center space. Ni Tian is a well-known artist and his work is seen frequently in collections and at auctions. He was one of the "Nine Friends" of Suzhou, and would have known and interacted with all of the famous painters in the south in his day. He began his studies with Wang Su (1794-1797), although there are hints at friction between the two. Some aspects of Ni Tian's character helped label him as "greasy and flippant," and his long-standing relationship with the madam of a brothel may have helped this censure. Although listed among the Suzhou artists, he spent most of his later years, from about 1890 on, in Shanghai, where he studied the style of Ren Yi, student of Ren Xun. The inscripton contains the dedication, date and signature. A single figure, seated but leaning to the left and with elbows resting on a large rock, reads a book. The large rock takes up the entire center of the composition, and the inscription at far left is balanced by the spreading branches of a tree, of which only the lower branches are visible, at right. The lower trunk of a second tree is visible at the right edge of the fan. The energetic brush and careful control of ink value are typical of Ni Tian, who was a very skilled artist technically. He lived into the twentieth century, and continued the traditions of the Shanghai school, especially the style of Ren Yi, although without much significant contribution of his own.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - women in a garden - detail of seal on left side
    Fan painting - women in a garden - detail of seal on left side 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 - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape by Zhu Shilin (act. late nineteenth century)

    Small landscape with inscription. Zhu Shilin is recorded in a dictionary of artists' names, but little more is known about him. That source mentions his reputation in calligraphy-specifically his seal script-and says nothing about other subjects, but this small landscape is evidence for his skill in that genre. In this small space, the artist has created a feeling of great scale and distance, of a vast vista that spreads to the horizons beyond the mass of the mountain. This is a more successful and integrated landscape than a casual painter might accomplish.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Qinglang

    Eleven lines of block clercial script, the last with the date. After this, four lines in running script with season, dedication, and signature. The writer has not been identified, but the clerical script would indicate a writer of some accomplishment. The poem is a well-known one by the Ming artist Tang Yin on the subject of the Qin, the Chinese zither. This type of block clerical is often identified with the very well known Qing artist Jin Nong (1687-after 1674), whose work was inspired by Han dynasty inscriptions.

  • 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 Zhu Yun

    14 lines of regular script alternate between six and three characters in each line. The last four lines contain the date and dedication, followed by the two character signature. Zhu Yun, known as Kejian, was from the area of Wu prefecture in Jiangsu province, an area long celebrated for its culture and the artistic figures who provided that history. He was known more for his paintings of landscapes, figures, and bird and flower than for his calligraphy, and one is not over impressed with this example from his hand. The fan is written in a regular script, evenly spaced and with some sense of structure, but the individual strokes lack relationship to one another and the modulation occurs in a haphazard way. The name Kejian means "a break, an intermission," and perhaps he took too much time from his studies. Someday, perhaps, one of his paintings will turn up and one can judge where his talents lay.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Woman outside picking duckweed
    Fan painting - Woman outside picking duckweed by Yang Qixia [?]

    Passing a rainy day picking duckweed. The name of this unidentified artist is interpolated from his signature (Yang, the jade field farmer) and the seal (Qixia). This is little better than a guess, and is certainly not definitive. To make things more interesting, there is an artist named Su Changchun, who lived in the mid nineteenth century, who has the pen name of Qixia. Unfortunately there is no indication of the surname Su in the inscription. As usual, the date could be any number in the repeating sixty-year cycle. The painting is of a pleasant domestic scene. A woman in elegant attire sits in a skiff and reaches into the water to touch the plants. To the right is a large rock, from which grows a willow. The willow's branches reach out and drop into the scene at top center, framing the boat and woman. As the title suggests, she is picking duckweed (marsilea quadrifolia), which is used in Chinese medicines as well as a food. The painting is undistinguished in its brushwork, although the composition is interesting.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Gong Bo

    Thirteen double lines in running script on slightly darkened paper, followed by date, dedication and signature. The name of the writer has not been found in a standard source, but the clearly written characters and standard formula for the signature leaves no doubt as to the name. The writing is by an accomplished hand, in a standard style. The writing begins, "Officials of the Han dynasty said…" The content could then refer back to that same era when so many of the great models of calligraphy were created.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Yang [?]

    Sixteen lines of running script, alternating between full lines of six to seven characters and shorter lines of three characters. At the end are two additional lines in the same script with the date and dedication. At the end is a single line with the signature in four characters. The writer gives a pen name, Qiu ?, and then his family name Yang. The given name (the last character) is unclear. As usual, the date could be sixty years earlier or later, depending on the life span of the artist.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Flowers
    Fan painting - Flowers by Huang Ju (1801-1860)

    The painting pairs chrysanthemums, an appropriate flower for an artist whose pen name means 'scholar of the autumn' with Chinese garden rocks. Huang Ju, pen name Qiushi, was from Songjiang in Jiangsu province. He was known as a painter of landscapes, figures, the bird and flower genre, and seal carving. His models were from the orthodox school: Yun Shouping for flowers and Wang Hui for landscape. He lived for sixty years, and that alone could establish one's reputation in a culture that revered the aged. The painting pairs crysanthemums, an appropriate flower for an artist whose pen name means "scholar of the autumn," with Chinese garden rocks. These stones, worn through by the ages and dredged up from the depths of lakes, were prized as ornaments in gardens and commanded high prices-as they still do today. The same idea of a garden rock appears in the fan painting in this collection by Ren Xun.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy from multiple hands
    Fan painting - Calligraphy from multiple hands by Multiple artists including Ye Xiuchang and Wang Lanshen

    At least nine distinct blocks of calligraphy written in a tiny regular script on a round-shaped fan. Out of the ten signatures on the piece, two have been identified, Ye Xiuchang and Wang Lanshen. The date of 1880 would have occurred late in both of their lives. Such a piece as this would be of interest primarily for the text. Other than the skill involved in writing at this scale, there is little artistic value.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Jin [?]

    24 lines of running-regular calligraphy, with the last two lines having the date, dedication, and signature. The lines alternate between those with nine and two characters per line, except for the final two lines with the signature. The writer remains unidentified. The calligraphy is written with a blunt brush, but has a consistency and presence lacking in works such as that in the collection by Wang Sirui. It has much of the structure and brush-method of the famous Song writer Su Shi. This is a better example of Chinese calligraphy in this mode.

  • Thumbnail for fan painting - Cherry blossoms with calligraphy
    fan painting - Cherry blossoms with calligraphy by Jin Lan (1841-1911)

    Prunus branches arching over inscription. Jin Lan was from Suzhou and is listed as one of the "Nine Friends" of that city. Although defined as a self-taught artist, he was certainly aware of the orthodox tradition of the Qing Dynasty. He modeled himself on such earlier masters and collaborated with contemporaries such as Gu Yun who worked in that tradition. He painted a wide range of subjects, but the prunus blossom was his speciality, and this fine example can be compared with others in the collection, notably that by Tang Yifen and Yi Nianzeng.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scattered Vegetables - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Scattered Vegetables - detail of inscription 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. Inscription is found on right side 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 - 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
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Multiple artists

    Ten separate inscriptions are written in a very small running script amounting to over a thousand characters. Each inscription is signed and sealed, but not yet identified. On this fan are ten different inscriptions by nine different artists. They are written in a very tiny regular-running script, and there is no doubt that these were educated men. This is a very interesting series of notes, with some references to paintings the major writer has seen. It will take some serious study to work out the meaning of the inscriptions and their relationship to one another. There may be great value in the literary record of ownership, but less in the calligraphy itself.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with one hundred sparrows
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with one hundred sparrows by Unknown

    A hundred sparrows spread amongst the branches, with an inscription top left. Neither the inscription nor seal yielded information on the artist. No, there are not one hundred sparrows, but titles such as this in Chinese terms just mean "a lot of" or "a big flock of" birds. Paintings such as this have a long history in Chinese art and would generally have been painted as presentations of wishes of abundance and good fortune. This is another of the unidentified works in the collection that must have been done by a well-trained and competent artist. Other works by him must have survived.