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.
Half figure of a woman with lengthy inscription. The identity of the two individuals who signed this fan is tentative. There is a person with the pen name of Chunfu, but the "fu" character is written with the water radical (pronounced pu). Such alterations in names did occur. This individual would then be Wu Changhai, active in the early nineteenth century, who was from Haining in Zhejiang province. He was known for his calligraphy. The single line of characters on the left is signed Lianxi, which is listed as a pen name of Wang Weizhen, a jinshi (metropolitan graduate) of 1860. This degree conferred immense prestige on the individual, and allowed him to move in the highest circles of society. He too was known for his calligraphy, and another source says that he followed in the tradition of Mi Fei and Dong Qichang, great calligraphers of the Song and Ming dynasties. Neither is listed as a painter. The calligraphy of the inscription on the left side is particularly nice, and is evidence of an accomplished artist. The date of 1871 fits Wang Weizhen's career well-less so for Wu Changhai-although there are no absolute dates for either. It is not clear which of the two, if any, was responsible for the painting of the lady. Leaving aside the identity of the writers, the portrait of the lady is a work of high quality. The subtle expression achieved by averting the eyes to the figure's right suggests a certain apprehensiveness, even distrust. One senses a very specific personality, far removed from the milk-toast faces on so many of the woman found in later Qing paintings. The full face is quite different from the longer thinner faces developed in the Shanghai school, and suggests an artist more tied to slightly earlier masters such as Fei Danxu, who had roots in Hangzhou. The careful delineation of the features of the face and the hair contrasts with the looser more expressive lines used in the drapery, and is a device many Chinese figure painters used to great effect.