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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 - Landscape with pavilion at Yanzi ji
    Fan painting - Landscape with pavilion at Yanzi ji by Zhu Yiliang

    The pavilion on the promontory 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 - 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 - Scholar and servant - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Scholar and servant - detail of inscription 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 - Landscape with pavilion - detail of seal
    Fan painting - Landscape with pavilion - detail of seal by Zhu Yiliang

    The pavilion on the promontory gives a vantage point from which one can enjoy the scene and while the boats under the sail out carry one across the waves. Seal shown is at far right of image. 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 - Wife Plum, Son Crane
    Fan painting - Wife Plum, Son Crane 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. The painting is actually titled by inscription by the artist. 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.

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

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

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - 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 - 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 - 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 - Whiling away the summer
    Fan painting - Whiling away the summer by Ren Xun (1835-1893

    The lotus, the fan and the robe pulled back from the neck all suggest the season of summer, and the subject of the scholar taking his ease. The lotus, the fan, and the robe pulled back from the neck all suggest the season of summer, and the subject of the scholar taking his ease in the garden during the summer has a long history. One famous example, not at all connected to this one in composition, is by Liu Guandao, probably dating from the early years of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). The isolation and skillful arrangement of the three main elements of the composition, the pot of lotus, the seated figure, and the garden rock are typical of the Shanghai school, which was by far the most creative force in nineteenth century painting. The elongated face and the modulated and somewhat jerky lines of drapery are also seen in other works by Ren Xun. This is a convincing work by one of the major masters of the century. Ren Yi, who was indebted to Xun for some instruction but who soon surpassed him in popularity, did a very similar painting, also on a fan. One could write a long essay on the differences and similarities between teacher and student.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholars at the riverbank
    Fan painting - Scholars at the riverbank by Jin Dejian

    Two scholars, one with a qin, seated on a riverbank with two large pines in the foreground. Ju-hsi Chou mentions Dejian in his essay on southern painters, and points out that he was a prominent landscape artist in Shanghai in the 1860s. Another source extends his period of activity through the late nineteenth-century. One other painting by Jin Dejian is mentioned in a recent catalog, unfortunately, not illustrated. It is interesting to compare this image to that found in the work by Lianxi, also in this collection. Both use the same visual conceit of the scholar in the landscape with his musical instrument. The artist in other works focuses on the figure, and the landscape seems somehow unimportant. In this fan, the great pine trees and the vista that opens up to the right dwarf the diminutive figures. The result is that the scene is both more contemplative and more suggestive of meaning.

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

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

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

    Three separate texts by three different writers. The middle text mentions a Han stele, either the Liqi Bei or the equally famous Shichen Bei. None of the writers have been identified. The middle inscription mentions the "Han Minister of Lu…at the Confucian Temple." The characters do not equate absolutely with the standard titles of the stele mentioned above, but they do refer to the same temple and same title as given in the inscriptions for those stele. The script used in the middle inscription is the clerical script used in those famous monuments.

  • 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 - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wu Tao

    Twenty four lines of regular-running script, alternating between long and short lines of about ten and six characters each, with some variation. At the end, five lines of explanation, dedication and signature. Claudia Brown comments on the expansive reputation that Wu Tao enjoyed in the late nineteenth century, and says that although his status has diminished as more attention has been given to the innovations of early twentieth century artists, he is still an artist of stature and accomplishment. He was something of a hermit, although he did travel to the three cities that so many of the artists in this collection frequented, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. He lived and worked in his Lailu caotang, or "Thatched Cottage of the Returning Storks," and landscapes were his primary subject. Although calligraphy was not his major medium, his writing in this example is animated and convincing. Despite the small size, the characters are written with energy and attention to the proper formation, not unexpected in one who was known for his classical interests. The fact that characters are written over the splines of the fan suggests that he wrote this before the fan was mounted. This is an interesting addition to the published works by the artist.

  • 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
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Shiwan

    25 characters in the large seal script, two characters to the line except for the single character in the last line; four lines in regular script with title dedication and date. The name Shiwan is certainly a zi or pen name. The two characters could be translated "Stony obstinance," or could refer to the four-character phrase, "wanshi diantou," or "even the obstinate stones bowed their heads [when the Buddhist Priest Daosheng preached]. The writer is not otherwise identified. The large seal script enjoyed a kind of revival in the later Qing, and major calligraphers like Deng Shiru (1743-1805) found inspiration and even exhilaration in the forms of this ancient script. The characters in this example lack the tense architectonic structures that Deng imbued in his characters.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wang Sirui

    24 lines of regular script, alternating between lines of nine and four characters. At the end are four lines with the same arrangement of characters with the date and dedication, followed by the artist's signature in five characters. The identification of this writer is by the last two characters in the signature, which are a pen name of Wang Sirui, from Pinghu in Zhejiang province. He was known for his draft script, which was not often used on fans. Other than that, no information has surfaced. The calligraphy in this example is not overly impressive. Strokes in characters do not have a consistent weight that would give a positive impression overall; they look labored and somewhat scattered over the surface.

  • 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.