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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wu Xizai (1799-1870)

    Thirteen lines of running script, alternating between long and short lines. After these lines are six more, in much the same calligraphy, but with smaller characters, that contain the dedication and signature. Wu Xizai's career mirrored that of a number of well-educated and talented men of his generation whose success and aspirations were affected by the epochal political events of his time, most notably the Taiping Rebellion, which laid waste the center of China during the mid-century. Originally from Yangzhou, a city with a tragic past but a lively artistic life in the mid-Qing, he came from a middle-class family-his father made a living as a fortune teller and physiognomist-but was recognized as a promising scholar and appointed as a shengyuan or "flourishing talent." As early as 1819, as a very young man, he had participated in the editing of the writings of his teacher Bao Shichen (1775-1855), one of the most important calligraphers of the Qing Dynasty. Wu was later to name his own studio the Shi Shen Xuan (the Student of Shen's (Bao Shichen) Studio). Bao's praise of Wu's calligraphy certainly promoted this student's success. Indeed, a section of Bao Shichen's famous treatise Yizhou shuangji was written as a response to questions raised by Wu. A decade later, around 1829, he came under the influence of Deng Shiju (1743-1805), perhaps the greatest of the calligraphic innovater in the Qing. Around the mid 1830s he was in contact with Tang Yifen, whose fan painting is also in this collection, another important painter and calligrapher of the time. In 1853 he was forced to flee the city before the advancing Taiping rebels. Until 1864 he remained a refugee in Taizhou, supported by members of the upper class who admired his calligraphy and painting. In his later years, with his sight failing, he leaned even more heavily on the good graces of those he had known. Wu Yun (1811-1883), a prominent collector and benefactor, was particularly important. The artist used the name "Xizai" between the years 1848 to 1861, after which he abandoned the name to avoid the taboo of using a character in the personal name of the Tongzhi Emperor, Zaichun. Works with "Xizai" in the signature or seal can therefore be dated before 1861, which would be true of both of these examples. As noted earlier, Wu suffered reverses of his health in his later years, and it is not yet certain how many works from the last decade of his life actually exist. Because of his fame, Wu's work was forged even in his lifetime. Brown documents the history of the rise and fall of critical interest in this artist, from popularity to obscurity, and then a renewed interest after a Japanese publication of his ouvre in 1978. His work influenced major artists of the next generation such as Zhao Zhiqian and Wu Changshuo. The calligraphy here has characteristics found in published works by the artist, including an idiosyncratic approach to the structure, as if every time a character were written he had to search for a new way to put the pieces together. Sometimes this is less successful than others.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script
    Fan painting - Calligraphy - detail of script by Wu Xizai (1799-1870)

    Calligraphy: Thirteen lines of running script, alternating between long and short lines. After these lines are six more, in much the same calligraphy, but with smaller characters, that contain the dedication and signature. Detail is of signature and seal. Wu Xizai's career mirrored that of a number of well-educated and talented men of his generation whose success and aspirations were affected by the epochal political events of his time, most notably the Taiping Rebellion, which laid waste the center of China during the mid-century. Originally from Yangzhou, a city with a tragic past but a lively artistic life in the mid-Qing, he came from a middle-class family-his father made a living as a fortune teller and physiognomist-but was recognized as a promising scholar and appointed as a shengyuan or "flourishing talent." As early as 1819, as a very young man, he had participated in the editing of the writings of his teacher Bao Shichen (1775-1855), one of the most important calligraphers of the Qing Dynasty. Wu was later to name his own studio the Shi Shen Xuan (the Student of Shen's (Bao Shichen) Studio). Bao's praise of Wu's calligraphy certainly promoted this student's success. Indeed, a section of Bao Shichen's famous treatise Yizhou shuangji was written as a response to questions raised by Wu. A decade later, around 1829, he came under the influence of Deng Shiju (1743-1805), perhaps the greatest of the calligraphic innovater in the Qing. Around the mid 1830s he was in contact with Tang Yifen, whose fan painting is also in this collection, another important painter and calligrapher of the time. In 1853 he was forced to flee the city before the advancing Taiping rebels. Until 1864 he remained a refugee in Taizhou, supported by members of the upper class who admired his calligraphy and painting. In his later years, with his sight failing, he leaned even more heavily on the good graces of those he had known. Wu Yun (1811-1883), a prominent collector and benefactor, was particularly important. The artist used the name "Xizai" between the years 1848 to 1861, after which he abandoned the name to avoid the taboo of using a character in the personal name of the Tongzhi Emperor, Zaichun. Works with "Xizai" in the signature or seal can therefore be dated before 1861, which would be true of both of these examples. As noted earlier, Wu suffered reverses of his health in his later years, and it is not yet certain how many works from the last decade of his life actually exist. Because of his fame, Wu's work was forged even in his lifetime. Brown documents the history of the rise and fall of critical interest in this artist, from popularity to obscurity, and then a renewed interest after a Japanese publication of his ouvre in 1978. His work influenced major artists of the next generation such as Zhao Zhiqian and Wu Changshuo. The calligraphy here has characteristics found in published works by the artist, including an idiosyncratic approach to the structure, as if every time a character were written he had to search for a new way to put the pieces together. Sometimes this is less successful than others.