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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape after Huang Gongwang
    Fan painting - Landscape after Huang Gongwang 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 - Lioness and Cub
    Fan painting - Lioness and Cub by Liu Deliu (1806-1875)

    A lioness walking from right to left, takes up most of the space in the fan. Her cub, facing the opposite direction, looks up at her as the mother's left forepaw rests on his back. Deliu was from Wujiang in Jiangsu province and was known as a specialist in painting plants and animals. He was a student of Xia Zhiding (1782-1827), a painter of similar subjects, but Xia was not well-known enough to have been mentioned in the modern literature. Deliu is said to have been the teacher of Lu Hui (another of the "Nine Friends"), but in this case the student far exceeded the teacher in both technical skill and production. At any rate, Deliu was already 45 when Lu Hui was born, and Lu Hui was just 24 when Deliu died, so the relation could not have been long-lived. Deliu was a "…highly refined individual-whose Red Pear Blossom Studio was known for its bright and sparkling interior, with a fine library and brushes and inkstones of the best quality." Although Brown praises Deliu's work, the relationship between Lu Hui and Deliu may have been more of patronage than teacher-student. He is one of the many artists in the collection that merit further study. A rather droll and amusing lioness, walking from right to left, takes up most of the space in the fan. Her cub, facing the opposite direction, looks up at her as the mother's left forepaw rests protectively on his back. The faces of the lions look more like dogs than lions, and other curious aspects of the anatomy-the long tails with pom-poms at the end and the elongated feet-make one wonder if Deliu had ever seen an actual lion. The statement in the inscription says that he was working in the style of Xinlo Shanren, or Hua Yan (1682-1765), a famous artist of the early Qing who specialized in figures and animals. The somewhat awkward rendering of the animal is mirrored in a painting of a fish in the collection of the Denver Museum of Art. One is tempted to see in the fish the same bemused expression worn by the lioness. The fish seems to float over, not in, the water, as does his companion, a frog.

  • 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 - Scholar and servant - detail of two central figures
    Fan painting - Scholar and servant - detail of two central figures by Ren Xun (1835-1893)

    n this painting two figures sit on a point of land that opens onto a vast stretch of water. They are embraced by the two trees, one in the left background and one between and behind the figures. Ren Xun is another major figure in nineteenth century Chinese painting. His importance is underlined by being included in the major exhibition A Century in Crisis, and the following comments are drawn from those pages. A Chinese author notes that "…in terms of facial renditions, the upper portions tend to be narrower and the lower portions fuller…and therefore are antique [in spirit]…" This gives some suggestion of a person who was more reflective and sober in spirit than others. Ren Xun was the brother of Ren Xiong and the teacher of Ren Yi, and he has suffered by comparison to these more famous members of the Ren family. Ren Yi was eventually to go to Shanghai, a world of art more prosperous and iconoclastic than Suzhou where Ren Xun chose to stay. He was a well-known figure in that city, and contributed to the world of art in many ways. His career is well-documented. In this painting the two figures sit on a point of land that opens onto a vast stretch of water, suggested by the indications of distant land at top left. They are embraced by the two trees, one in the left foreground and one between and behind the figures. The scene of the scholar in nature awaiting tea prepared by a servant is often encountered in traditional landscapes, and this scene seems to be a quick sketch, a footnote referring back to that tradition.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Orchids, rocks and mushrooms
    Fan painting - Orchids, rocks and mushrooms by Shen Rong (act. 1820-1850)

    To the right are two five character quatrains comparing the orchid to the fragrance of a woman. At the end is the dedication and signature. Shen Rong, zi Shixiang, has a minimal presence in the literature. He was known for his flowers, as well as landscape in the manner of the Loudong School, associated with the early Qing master Wang Yuanqi. The single work cited in Sirén is also of an orchid, and Sirén states that he was active around 1830. To the right are two five-character quatrains comparing the orchid to the fragrance of a woman. At the end is the dedication and signature. The literary and pictorial conceit of the wild orchid is a very old one in China, and one that a student could follow in an essay on the topic. The orchid is inobtrusive, not at all showy like many seen in greenhouses today, yet its fragrance pervades the air. This is a metaphor for the proper Confucian gentleman, whose character influences others although he may be retired socially. The long pliant leaves of the plant allow the calligraphic possibilities of the brush to come into play, and the solidity of the rock contrasts with the softness of the plant. The mushroom is always a symbol of longevity, sometimes associated with Daoist practices.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of central female figure
    Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of central female figure 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 -  Boats on a lake beneath a temple
    Fan painting - Boats on a lake beneath a temple by Xu Guanhai

    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 - Wife Plum, Son Crane - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Wife Plum, Son Crane - detail of calligraphy by Feng Ji (act. early 19th century)

    A scholar at the center leaning on the prunus tree that bends to the right, while another tree behind the first crosses back to the left. The rocks, vegetation and drapery are done with energy. This is one of the earlier artists in the group. He is recorded as living in the late Qianlong and Daoguang eras, and one other painting by him is dated 1827. He was known for calligraphy, landscapes, and figures, those of women in particular, as well as the genre of bird and flower. This is a very satisfactory painting, well composed with the scholar at center leaning on the prunus tree that bends to the right, while another tree behind the first crosses back to the left. The scholar's gaze turns toward the stork, a standard image suggesting a departed friend; the stork in turn looks at the scholar. The rocks, vegetation and drapery are done with energy and well-honed technique. The painting almost suggests the Kano school of Japan. The painting is actually titled by inscription by the artist.

  • 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 - 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 - Temple in the Mountains
    Fan painting - Temple in the Mountains by Zhu Chengshou

    The temple nestled in the mountains inside a stone wall suggests a romantic retreat, far removed from the urban life. The buildings and rocks are surrounded by dense low shrubs and there are lumpy peaks of mountains. The identification of this artist is tentative. Zhu Chengshou is recorded, but the only information given is that he was appointed to the court as a gongsheng (senior licentiate) in 1869. While this date is almost in the middle of two possible years on the sixty-year cycle for bingshen, a gongsheng appointment would come only after one had established a reputation, so an earlier date seems most likely. The temple nestled in the mountains inside a stone wall suggests a romantic retreat, far removed from the urban life that any official would have led. The buildings and rocks surrounded by dense low shrubs reminds one of the paintings of Gong Xian, a famous artist from earlier in the dynasty. Then again, the lumpy peaks of the mountains suggest the style of the Five Dynasties artist Zhuran: perhaps both references were intended. A path enters the scene at bottom right, continues past the temple gate, and then crosses a stream before exiting left. This is a very attractive work, with a personal style.

  • 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 - 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.

  • 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 - 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 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 - Scholar in forest
    Fan painting - Scholar in forest by Zhou Yong (active in Daoguang and Fengxian eras from 1821-1862)

    Distant shoreline seen at far right on a lower plane than that of the shore at the left. Scholar with a walking staff in the Cold Forest. There is some basic information recorded for Zhou Yong, who was from the Hangzhou area. He was known for landscapes, figure paintings, and flowers and is recorded as a student of the more famous flower painter Zhang Xiong (1803-1886), whose work is also found in this collection. The very general dates given for Zhou's period of activity suggest that he was about the same age or even older than his teacher. If this is true, then the date of 1828 seems most likely, although the later date in the sixty-year cycle, 1888, is still possible. The inscription claims inspiration from the early Qing master Wang Hui, recognized at this time as one of the greatest of the orthodox masters. The organization of the landscape is similar to that in a number of long handscrolls, with the distant shoreline seen at far right on a lower plane than that of the shore at the left. Such spatial inconsistencies are intentional, and they are clues for the viewer to experience space in different ways at different points in the painting. As in many works of the orthodox school, the streams and mountains are built up by layering brush strokes one over the other to create a complex tapestry of texture on rocks and mountains. The feeling of the cold season is effected by the bare branches of the trees, and the empty lonely space that stretches out to the distant mountains.

  • 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 - 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 - 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 - Calligraphy on round fan
    Fan painting - Calligraphy on round fan by Huang Wenmei and Wang Huanwen

    Two blocks of regular script, the first in seven lines of nine characters each, the second in five lines of eleven characters, except the last with only five characters. After these five, in the same column, is the date. At the far right and far left are dedicated to the same individual, called Haimen. There is no record of either artist in the sources. The two texts are written in slightly different hands in a formal script, following standard examples that a student would use to learn proper technique. In this sense they are less impressive than, for instance, the preceding example.

  • 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 - 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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar in a boat looking up a cliff: the Ode on the Red Cliff
    Fan painting - Scholar in a boat looking up a cliff: the Ode on the Red Cliff by Zhu Liangcai (act. early 20th century)

    Detail. Ellen Laing lists this name in her index to twentieth century painters, and refers to one other figure painting, Two Ladies in a Garden, dated 1926. Liangcai belonged to the Changhong Painting society, and more details on his life may be available. One can compare this to the same subject also in the collection, attributed to the famous twentieth–century artist Jiang Daqian. Although the elements in the scene are exactly the same, Daqian creates a much more dynamic composition and moves the viewer into closer proximity to the figures in the boat. There is also much more energy in the brushwork. The stiffness in this example may be due to the fact that the artist is painting after a model, in this case, as the inscription says, the Ming artist Tang Yin (Liuju zhushi). The two works were done within a few years of each other, and both show early twentieth–century artists continuing traditional themes, but in very different ways.