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.
A pair of monkeys on the rock silhouetted against the distant mountains. Even though Gu Yun was a prolific artist, there is no clear explanation as to why there are so many of his works in this collection. This is an unusual subject, and the explanation probably lies in the colophon, not yet translated. Gu Yun's classical training is evident in the foreground rocks and trees. The composition works well, with the pair of monkeys on the rock silhouetted against the distant mountains.
Ten uneven lines of regular and running calligraphy, alternating between lines of six and two characters. After this is a block of text with six lines in smaller characters of the same type. The last two lines contain the dedication, date and signature. Chen Xi is identified through his pen name, Lianting. In addition to calligraphy, he painted portraits, plum blossoms and bamboo. SirÃ©n says that he was a pupil of Liang Tongshu (1723-1815), a well-known late eighteenth century calligrapher. Liang Tongshu lived a long life, and it is quite possible that a student of his was already active in 1770, but equally possible that a student that he took on late in life could have survived him by fifteen years, so two possible dates are given. The dedication, including the standard phrase "â€¦XX sanxiong daren yashu" (for the elegant perusal of the honored XX third brother) is common in the nineteenth century, but far less so in the eighteenth. This is not an ironclad rule, but perhaps puts slightly more weight on the later date. Whatever the date, this fan is one of the oldest in the collection. It does have a good deal of wear, and some characters are abraded to the point of invisibility. Liang Tongshu's calligraphy is certainly more impressive than this example, but one sees here some of the balance between freedom of brush and tightness of structure for which Tongshu was famous. Some characters, however, fall below this bar. In a generation, one might possibly have a specialized exhibition on Liang Tongshu, his circle and his students.
Fourteen uneven lines alternating between lines of five and lines of two characters, written in a regular-running script. The last line in slightly smaller characters contains the date and signature. From the signature, this is another work by the famous twentieth century artist Zhang Daqian. The signature here is very close to that on the other fan in the collection, and that one has the notation "man of Shu" or Sichuan, the province from which Daqian came. If this fan were to be by Daqian, it would be the latest dated work in the collection, by far. There were other artists with the pen name Daqian, but none of them were from Sichuan. Ultimately, it should be possible to compare this with other works by the artist done near that date to determine its authenticity. The calligraphic style immediately calls to mind the characters of the Song artist Huang Tingjian, who has always been an icon of the expressive possibilities of the brush. The long wavering terminations of strokes that extend beyond the normal bounds of the calligraphy were his trademark. If the date is correct, this would be the work of a younger Daqian, and one could critique the piece by noting that the expressive possibilities of Huang Tingjian's calligraphy are a bit overused here. This artist creates the long terminations whereever possible; Tingjian did it rarely, only for effect. The last line, "To wash one's ears it is not necessary to use the water from a Bodhisattva's spring" is interesting. The meaning, I would guess, is that ordinary water is as good for washing as that blessed by a deity.
Indistinct background and mist filled shoreline with temple roof emerging from the trees. The artist is known only from an entry in the dictionary, which says that he was from Shangyu in Zhejiang province and known for calligraphy as well as for painting orchids and naturalistic scenes, which usually meant still life or bird and flower themes. He was a provincial graduate in 1760, so the date of 1806 could fit within his later years. There is a certain antique feeling in this work in that the indistinct background and mist filled shoreline with the temple roof emerging from the trees harks back to the Southern Song and the Ma-Xia School. Even the style of the temple architecture imitates that found in these earlier paintings, as does the "one corner" composition with most of the visual weight placed to one side. This is somewhat surprising, since by the early Qing the more orthodox painters did not think much of these earlier masters.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 "â€¦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, "â€¦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.
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.