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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape with pavilion - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Landscape with pavilion - detail of inscription by Zhu Yiliang

    The pavilion on the promotory gives a vantage point from which one can enjoy the scene and while the boats under the sail out carry one across the waves. At the very end of the inscription is the name Hanshi, which is the zi of the Kangxi artist Zhu Yiliang. This would then be the earliest artist in the collection by far, but the identification should be accepted with some caution. Zhu Yiliang was known for calligraphy and seal carving, not painting. While the dedication does not contain the standard nineteenth century phrasing, the style is not convincingly eighteenth century. Finally, one would need to ask why a single early artist made his way into the collection. Could a later unrecorded artist have had used the name Hanshi as well? Only the emergence of other works signed with the same name will answer the question. The scene depicted is that of the cliff or promontory called the Yan[zi]ji on the banks of the broad Yangtze River. Although mountains may not have been so high in the south, no Chinese artist was restricted by photographic realism. The pavilion on the promontory gives a vantage point from which one can enjoy the scene or travel across the waves on one of the boats under sail. The inscription begins with two seven-character quatrains, then the title and the artist's name.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)

    Fourteen uneven lines alternating between lines of five and lines of two characters, written in a regular-running script. The last line in slightly smaller characters contains the date and signature. From the signature, this is another work by the famous twentieth century artist Zhang Daqian. The signature here is very close to that on the other fan in the collection, and that one has the notation "man of Shu" or Sichuan, the province from which Daqian came. If this fan were to be by Daqian, it would be the latest dated work in the collection, by far. There were other artists with the pen name Daqian, but none of them were from Sichuan. Ultimately, it should be possible to compare this with other works by the artist done near that date to determine its authenticity. The calligraphic style immediately calls to mind the characters of the Song artist Huang Tingjian, who has always been an icon of the expressive possibilities of the brush. The long wavering terminations of strokes that extend beyond the normal bounds of the calligraphy were his trademark. If the date is correct, this would be the work of a younger Daqian, and one could critique the piece by noting that the expressive possibilities of Huang Tingjian's calligraphy are a bit overused here. This artist creates the long terminations whereever possible; Tingjian did it rarely, only for effect. The last line, "To wash one's ears it is not necessary to use the water from a Bodhisattva's spring" is interesting. The meaning, I would guess, is that ordinary water is as good for washing as that blessed by a deity.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - The First Red Cliff Prose Poem - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - The First Red Cliff Prose Poem - detail of inscription by Sun Zhang

    Two bearded scholars in a boat on a moonlight night. Despite the accomplished technique of this work and presence of a pen name and signature (the character "zhang" is not clear), the artist has not been identified. The style of the painting is very close to that of Qian Hui'an (1833-1911), but the calligraphy in the inscription is different from that artist. Qian's followers were legion, and any number of artists could have produced this charming fan. The face of the bearded scholar at center is particularly close to Huian's work. One can compare this work to those by Shen Zhaohan, another follower of Hui'an. The artist states that he is doing the work in Hucheng, or Shanghai, where Qian Hui'an spent most of his career. The subject of the painting is the "Ode on the Red Cliff" by Su Shi, a topic that appears several times in this collection. It takes as a theme the evanescence of human effort over the broad span of history, and this concept must have resonated with many in these confusing times.

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

    Paintings of both men and women in gardens. A part of the iconography of 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 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 - Willows along a bank - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Willows along a bank - detail of inscription by Yang Zhao

    A copse of willows grows by the water. To the right is a home with a figure seen through the door; to the left a skiff moves over the water. In the background a range of mountains rise above the mist that hangs over the water. Although the seal, at least, seems fairly clear in indicating the name Yang Zhao, the name does not appear in standard sources. A copse of willows grows by the water. To the right is a home with a figure seen through the door; to the left a skiff moves over the water. In the background a range of mountains rises above the mist that hangs over the water. The composition is very conservative, going back ultimately to such scenes painted by the Song master Zhao Lingrang, although he would not have included the mountains. The device of using the mist to screen the base of the mountains is, in fact, an archaic device developed before painters found a way to move the eye back into space from foreground to distance. The application of color also goes back to early times, especially since the brush line is so little in evidence. Whether this artist specialized in such scenes or was simply making a reference back into the past is impossible to say.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of inscription 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 - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape 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 - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Langqing [?]

    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. 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 Wu Changshi (1844-1927)

    15 lines of running script alternating between lines of eight and four characters, with some variation in number of characters per line. These are followed by six lines of date, dedication, and signature. Wu Changshi, a name Wu Jun adopted later in life, is arguably the most famous and most important artist represented in this collection. He is also one of the latest, and most of his work and stylistic innovations occurred in the twentieth century. This work is dated, but the area of the date is heavily abraded and unreadable. It is most likely, however, an early example of his calligraphy. His career is as well recorded as any artist of his generation, and the extensive comments by Claudia Brown and Kuiyi Shen are readily available and need not be repeated here in detail. Shen says of Wu that he was "…one of the most innovative of early twentieth-century painters, and his career best represents the process of evolution form artistic patterns of late imperial China to those of the modern era." He began his career in the late Qing aspiring to a position as an official, but ended up in Shanghai as a commercial artist, two roles which were at the opposite ends of the social spectrum. The characters are written in an aggressive and rapid hand. There is a tendency for horizontal strokes to rise rapidly from left the right, and all strokes have noticeable modulation. These are aspects of his mature calligraphy, but more cautiously expressed. The same form of the character "Jun" in the signature can be seen in an early painting found in Brown. As with all famous Chinese artists, a certain caution is advisable, and a scholar familiar with Changshi's calligraphy through his career should be asked for an opinion. Nevertheless, this is a very important work that should be shared with those doing work in this area.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scene from the Red Cliff
    Fan painting - Scene from the Red Cliff by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)

    A scene of excursion by boat to the Red Cliff, illustrating the two odes on the Red Cliff. The cliff overrarches the boat and passengers, as in an innovative use of restrictions of the fan format. Zhang Daqian became one of the best-known Chinese artists of the twentieth century, and was an international figure. He lived and worked in Shanghai before 1949, and then in California, Brazil and Taiwan. He was a person of great talent who understood the entire tradition of Chinese painting, and is perhaps responsible for creating a part of that tradition through his imitations and fakes. There is an immense body of literature on his life and work, and finding how this fan fits into his development should be an interesting study. The identification of this fan rests on both the name Daqian as well as the fact that he identifies himself as "a man of Shu (Shuren)" or Sichuan. If this is indeed by Zhang Daqian, and the assessment of the entire collection as being primarily nineteenth century is correct, this would need be a very early painting by this master, done perhaps around 1920. The final word on the authenticity of the work must wait for a study of other documented early paintings, and how the style, signature and seal of this one fits in with those others (also see fan #30, dated 1930). The scene of the excursion by boat to the Red Cliff, illustrating the two odes on the Red Cliff by Su Shi or Su Dongpo, has been painted by artists over the centuries, and is one of the most popular themes in the repertoire of literati artists. The composition, with the cliff overarching the boat and passengers, is an innovative use of the restrictions of the fan format. The cliffs are painted with energy and skill, and they are continued by the pine trees that reach down from the very top of the fan. The rushes at the left counter and control the strong leftward movement of the cliffs and pines, and act as to move the boat gently into the middle ground. The painting and composition continue the compositional freshness found in the Shanghai school with a brush energy found in many early twentieth century painters.

  • 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 - 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 - Flowering cherry
    Fan painting - Flowering cherry by Yi Nianzeng

    Prunus blossoms with inscription. Yi Nianzeng is another painter whose fame is tied to that of his father, the great calligrapher and aesthetician Yi Bingshou (1754-1815).Nianzeng aspired to an official career, and eventually held a post in Zhejiang province, which would have brought him into contact with the world of the lower Yangtse River Valley. This was the home of most of the artists represented in this collection. Nianzeng was known for his seal and clerical script, and also for prunus blossoms, as in this example. There is a certain awkwardness in the composition of this fan. Many earlier artists created a composition where the main branch of the tree descended from the top of the painting, but here the two branches cross and create an "eye" just below the edge of the fan, and in the eye the minor branches crisscross making an artificial pattern. The point of the subject is to highlight the profusion of blossoms, but here the branches dominate, and the blossoms are almost pushed to the background. It is worth noting that in the calligraphy illustrated in the Kuo and Sturman volume, there is some of this same awkwardness and geometric structure. Too few of Nianzeng's works have been illustrated to make a general judgment. In the future this critique can be used to judge his other works.

  • 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 Lady Tanchen (act. late 19th century)

    Transcription on the "Loshen Fu" (Ode on the Nymph of the Lo River). There are fifty six lines alternating between lines of eighteen and ten characters (in two instances, two short and two long lines are together.) The characters are written in a tiny regular script,two lines with the dedication, date and signature are at the far left. There is no other record of this artist. Although dated within the sixty-year cycle, the specific year cannot be settled until someone uncovers more information on the life span of the artist. For comments on women artists and on writing such small characters, see fan #1. The text is the "Ode on the Nymph of the Lo River," written by Cao Zhi (Cao Zijian) who lived from 192-232. This is a famous literary piece, often illustrated by artists over the centuries. Students would find this an interesting topic for an essay.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of seal
    Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of seal 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 - Landscape with pavilion
    Fan painting - Landscape with pavilion by Gu Yun (1835-1896)

    An open pavilion half hidden by large rocks looks over a clearing in a garden. Beyond this are two large mountains, painted in with the lightest washes. An open pavilion half hidden by large rocks looks over a clearing in a garden. Beyond this are two large mountains, painted with the lightest washes. Literati painters prized such subtle definition of the landscape.

  • 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 - Xiaohong Softly Sings and I Play the Vertical Flute
    Fan painting - Xiaohong Softly Sings and I Play the Vertical Flute by Shen Zhaohan (1856-1941)

    Man and woman in a boat moored before a large rock. Shen Zhaohan, zi Xinhai, lived well into the twentieth century. Would that someone would have interviewed him before he died in 1941. A recent work records his activity in the early twentieth century, when he was a member and for a time Director of the Shanghai-based Yuyuan Shuhua Shanhui (The Yu Garden Charitable Association of Calligraphy and Painting), which was founded only in 1909. Laing records two other artist organizations to which he belonged. Such group activities document the social organizations formed by painters in the early twentieth century to improve their status in the community and financial well-being. He would certainly have been conversant with those of the "Nine Friends" that were of his generation. The works recorded in Laing's Index are dated between 1896 and 1935, so the 1884 date would make this one of his earliest works. The thin elongated faces are clear references back to the Shanghai School and painters like Ren Xun, Qian Huian, and Ni Tian. His other recorded works are all figures and flowers. Even though there is clear precedent for the style that Zhaohan uses here, the painting has an attractive composition, with the two figures set to the right framed by the diagonal of the large rock behind them. The technique in the drapery of the figures is well done, and in line with other late nineteenth century artists. The artist has provided the title in his inscription.

  • 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 - 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
    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
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Dashou (1791-1858)

    14 lines of running script, alternating between lines of seven or eight characters and lines of five characters. The fourteenth line has the dedication. After this is the signature. Dashou was a well-known monk famous for his calligraphy, painting and seal carving. He was called the Jinshi monk, or the "monk of [calligraphy written on] bronze and stone," a reference that certainly praised his erudition in the study of ancient characters found in these media. A friend wrote of him, "Shang vessels, Zhou tripods, Han seals, Tang stelae: over the sweep of 3000 years milord has acquired their breadth and measure from a responsive Heaven." His early history is unknown, but he must have begun his studies at an early age and have come from an environment that treasured such erudition. The short passage begins with the date "jianzhong, qingguo, yuannian, shiyue" or "the tenth month of the first year of the jianzhong qiingguo era" which would be the year 1101. This is the date Su Shi (1037-1101) the great poet, calligrapher, and statesman, died. This, and the fact that Su Shi's pen name, Dongpo, occurs in the seventh line of the passage, strongly suggests that Dashou is writing out a passage from Su's essays, which have always been treasured for their literary style. Just as important is the beauty of Su's calligraphy, which has been used as a model by generations of Chinese as Dashou does here. Any scholar more versed in literature than I could certainly identify the specific source for this. The characters are beautifully written in a regular script characteristic of Su Shi. Each character is contained within itself, with a careful balance of vertical and horizontal elements. Over the surface, no single character stands out, nor do any seem less important no matter the simplicity of their form. This work should be of interest to anyone who is studying the sources for Dashou's style.