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  • 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 - 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 - 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 - Lioness and Cub
    Fan painting - Lioness and Cub by Liu Deliu (1806-1875)

    A lioness walking from right to left, takes up most of the space in the fan. Her cub, facing the opposite direction, looks up at her as the mother's left forepaw rests on his back. Deliu was from Wujiang in Jiangsu province and was known as a specialist in painting plants and animals. He was a student of Xia Zhiding (1782-1827), a painter of similar subjects, but Xia was not well-known enough to have been mentioned in the modern literature. Deliu is said to have been the teacher of Lu Hui (another of the "Nine Friends"), but in this case the student far exceeded the teacher in both technical skill and production. At any rate, Deliu was already 45 when Lu Hui was born, and Lu Hui was just 24 when Deliu died, so the relation could not have been long-lived. Deliu was a "…highly refined individual-whose Red Pear Blossom Studio was known for its bright and sparkling interior, with a fine library and brushes and inkstones of the best quality." Although Brown praises Deliu's work, the relationship between Lu Hui and Deliu may have been more of patronage than teacher-student. He is one of the many artists in the collection that merit further study. A rather droll and amusing lioness, walking from right to left, takes up most of the space in the fan. Her cub, facing the opposite direction, looks up at her as the mother's left forepaw rests protectively on his back. The faces of the lions look more like dogs than lions, and other curious aspects of the anatomy-the long tails with pom-poms at the end and the elongated feet-make one wonder if Deliu had ever seen an actual lion. The statement in the inscription says that he was working in the style of Xinlo Shanren, or Hua Yan (1682-1765), a famous artist of the early Qing who specialized in figures and animals. The somewhat awkward rendering of the animal is mirrored in a painting of a fish in the collection of the Denver Museum of Art. One is tempted to see in the fish the same bemused expression worn by the lioness. The fish seems to float over, not in, the water, as does his companion, a frog.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Pipa Song
    Fan painting - Pipa Song 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 - Landscape - detail of seal
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of seal 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. Like the previous fan, 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. 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 - Landscape - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy by Zheng Shifang

    Landscape in the style of Dong Yuan. Dense piled up mountains on the right and distant vista on the left, complete with architecture and a single walking figure.

  • 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 - Willows along a bank
    Fan painting - Willows along a bank 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 - Landscape - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy by Wu Guxiang (1843-1903)

    The painting has an idyllic setting which recalls the classic heritage, and is close in its feeling to a published handscroll. Careful selection and placement of a few elements two trees, a single pavilion, a shoreline in distance to the right and few mountains and hills to the left. Soft pastel colors are used. Wu Guxiang is one of the best known painters of the late nineteenth century. He was well traveled. He began his career in Suzhou, then went to Yushan and Shanghai, eventually in 1892 heading far north to the capital in Beijing before returning again to Shanghai the following year. He was one of the few artists in the group who would have experienced the artistic climate in the capital, probably hearing about political intrigue and foreign oppression from acquaintances there. He was also able to profit from the study of older paintings in Beijing collections. Although he lived and worked in Shanghai, he was far more conservative than most artists in that city, which was more oriented to merchant taste than a classical style. In the South he was one of the "Nine Friends of Suzhou." Such groupings have appeared frequently in later Chinese art history: for example, there are the "Nine Friends of Painting," the "Four Wangs," the "Four lesser Wangs" and the "Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou." These names are convenient handles, but they often gloss over important dissimilarities in style and careers. For instance, not all of the "Nine Friends" were productive artists. In the two major lists compiled by Sirén and Laing (Laing's limited to the twentieth century), there are no entries for Wu Dacheng, Wu Guxiang, Jin Lan, or Ren Yu, and only one for Hu Xigui. The one work by Wu Dacheng I have seen is not impressive, and he may be included in the group simply because of his social stature. In contrast Sirén has more than a half dozen for Gu Yun, and Laing has dozens of entries for Ni Tian, Lu Hui, and Gu Linshi. Gu Yun, Gu Linshi, and Lu Hui are also given prominent exposure in the major exposition A Century in Crisis. In another important exhibition, Ni Tian, Wu Guxiang, Lu Hui, and Ren Yu appear. Gu Yun was well known in his day and went to Japan as a sort of "cultural envoy" where he taught painting to interested Japanese. He, Lu Hui, and Gu Linshi were known as conservative "revivalists" early in their careers, while Ni Tian and to a certain extent Ren Yu represented the more innovative and iconoclastic Shanghai school. The group obviously spans two generations-two generations in which great changes occurred in the social and political arenas. They all did know each other, and probably interacted on a frequent schedule. To return to Wu's fan: it is close in feeling to a published handscroll painted by him. Both recall his Suzhou heritage, wherein he follows a long line of artists who admired and imitated the great late Ming artist Wen Zhengming. The idyllic setting recalls this classical heritage, seen in the careful selection and placement of a few elements: two trees, a single pavilion, a shoreline in the distance to the right and a few mountains and hills to the left. Soft pastel colors, used with restraint, are also typical of this approach.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - The First Red Cliff Prose Poem
    Fan painting - The First Red Cliff Prose Poem 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 - Landscape - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of calligraphy 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 - Xiaohong Softly Sings and I Play the Vertical Flute - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Xiaohong Softly Sings and I Play the Vertical Flute - detail of calligraphy 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 centurry. 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 - Xiaohong Softly Sings and I Play the Vertical Flute - detail of figures
    Fan painting - Xiaohong Softly Sings and I Play the Vertical Flute - detail of figures 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 - 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 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 - Man reading resting on a rock - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Man reading resting on a rock - detail of calligraphy by Ni Tian (1853-1919)

    A single figure, seated but leaning to the left and with elbows resting on a large rock, reads a book. The large rock takes up the entire center space. Ni Tian is a well-known artist and his work is seen frequently in collections and at auctions. He was one of the "Nine Friends" of Suzhou, and would have known and interacted with all of the famous painters in the south in his day. He began his studies with Wang Su (1794-1797), although there are hints at friction between the two. Some aspects of Ni Tian's character helped label him as "greasy and flippant," and his long-standing relationship with the madam of a brothel may have helped this censure. Although listed among the Suzhou artists, he spent most of his later years, from about 1890 on, in Shanghai, where he studied the style of Ren Yi, student of Ren Xun. The inscripton contains the dedication, date and signature. A single figure, seated but leaning to the left and with elbows resting on a large rock, reads a book. The large rock takes up the entire center of the composition, and the inscription at far left is balanced by the spreading branches of a tree, of which only the lower branches are visible, at right. The lower trunk of a second tree is visible at the right edge of the fan. The energetic brush and careful control of ink value are typical of Ni Tian, who was a very skilled artist technically. He lived into the twentieth century, and continued the traditions of the Shanghai school, especially the style of Ren Yi, although without much significant contribution of his own.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Wife Plum, Son Crane - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - Wife Plum, Son Crane - detail of calligraphy 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. 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. The painting is actually titled by inscription by the artist.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape - detail of central figure
    Fan painting - Landscape - detail of central figure 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
    Fan painting - Scholar and servant by Ren Xun (1835-1893)

    In this painting, two figures sit on a point of land that opens onto a vast stretch of water. A scholar sits on a rock as his servant makes tea. 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 - The Lute Song
    Fan painting - The Lute Song 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 - women in a garden - detail of calligraphy
    Fan painting - women in a garden - detail of calligraphy 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.