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

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

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

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

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Pipa Song - detail of central figure
    Fan painting - Pipa Song - detail of central figure by Wang Su (1794-1877)

    Woman with pipa in a boat. Wang Su was well known in his day, and his work has appeared in recent exhibitions. He lived through the tumultuous mid-century era when the Opium War and Taiping rebellion wrecked havoc across the land. His nephew, a student of his, died in the rebellion. Brown says that Wang Su was "…not known for his native talent, either in painting or in calligraphy, yet he was able to overcome his deficiencies through industry and diligence." Conscious of the expectation that successful painters have literary skills, he developed a minor reputation in poetry and attached long inscriptions on some of his paintings. Wang Su was known for his figure paintings, often in the style of Gai Qi and Fei Danxiu, two well-known figure painters of the middle Qing. As in the painting in the Henricksen collection, this one has a melancholy air about it, and probably refers to the famous Tang dynasty poem, The Pipa Song, written by Bai Zhuyi in 816. The poem recounts an event in which Bai Zhuyi travelled to Xunyang and visited with a friend on his boat. From across the waters came the sound of the pipa, the Chinese lute, played with surpassing skill. Both men knew that only a musician trained in the capital could play so well. It turned out the player was a courtesan, grown old and now unwanted. She joined the men on the boat and played for them. The event was a favorite subject for artists, and evoked the passing of time and the fading of earthly pleasures. The subject is properly identified as an illustration to the poem Pipa Song.

  • 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 - Orchids, rocks and mushrooms - detail of inscription
    Fan painting - Orchids, rocks and mushrooms - detail of inscription 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 First Red Cliff Prose Poem - detail of the central two figures
    Fan painting - The First Red Cliff Prose Poem - detail of the central two figures 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 - The Lute Song - detail of central male figures
    Fan painting - The Lute Song - detail of central male figures by Shen Yuebin (act.1820-1850)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Domestic scene
    Fan painting - Domestic scene by Fei Yigeng (d. after 1870)

    Domestic scene of a couple in a small shop or room, with a tree set at the entrance. A good part of the reputation of Fei Yigeng is tied to that of his father Fei Danxu, whose work is also in this collection. He carried on his father's tradition by painting scenes such as this one of family life or of women. In this case Yigeng states that he is painting in the manner of Yang Yin, the well-known Ming dynasty artist whose subject included, but was not at all limited to, women. There is no way of knowing exactly what the painting by Tang Yin was like, but the composition here is quite effective, with the interior scene seen through the tree on the right of the home and the large rock on the left. The man is at work at the long table. He turns to communicate with the woman, who enters from another room, indicated by the curtain drawn back from the door. Her long sleeves suggest she is not of the lowest class, but neither does the room suggest a home of great riches. A vase set on the table holds a flower, the single spot of color in the home, and this gives an aura of aesthetic sensibility to the humble home.

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

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

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - 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 - 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 - Illustration of scene from Ode on the Red Cliff.
    Fan painting - Illustration of scene from Ode on the Red Cliff. by Zhou Li (1736-1820)

    Illustration to the Ode on the Red Cliff with men in boats beneath the cliff face. Zhou Li, pen name Mushan, was from Jiading in Jiangsu province. He was a long-lived artist who worked in the tradition of the orthodox tradition of Wang Hui and Yun Shouping. Recent research on Zhou Li exemplifies the gradual process through which information on a minor artist accumulates. An album leaf by him was published a few years earlier, and a comparison of the signature and style shows it to be by the same hand. Despite information in a dictionary that states he lived in the Kangxi and Yungzheng eras, the associations in that other album and in this fan show him to have worked a century later Such comparisons, along with other information found in the inscriptions, slowly begin to create an image of the artist and his work. One hopes that as other collections such as this one are published, more works by these artists will emerge. Here again is the theme of the Odes on the Red Cliff, with the iconic boat carrying scholars draws near to a cliff topped by pine trees that lean out over the water. The scene is painted with restrained brush strokes, indicative of the artist's classical training.

  • 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 - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wang Wanfang (act. late nineteenth century)

    Seventeen uneven lines, alternating between eight and three characters per line. In addition, the last two lines contain the dedication and signature. Wang Wanfang achieved the jinshi or metropolitan degree in 1889. This was the highest honor that an aspiring young Chinese scholar could hope for, and placed him in the elite company of those who held the highest government positions. The characters are written in a bold regular script with the brush likely held at an angle to the paper, giving the strokes a crisp angularity suggesting the European calligraphic pen. Some elements of the characters seem unbalanced, but overall there is a steady rhythm in the progress of the brush. The poem refers to the "nine tripods" and "five jade disks," along with other artifacts that might grace the home of a well to do man. Perhaps all this is in praise of the person to whom the fan is dedicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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