A lady leans on a rock withing a garden enclosure. Fei Danxu was one of the most popular and successful artists in the nineteenth century. He was active in both Hangzhou and Shanghai. Although he painted every possible subject, he is most remembered for his figure paintings, especially those of women. His tradition lived on in the work of his sons, one of whom, Fei Yigeng, is represented in this collection. In this fan, the lady who leans against the rock with her head resting on her hand adopts the "relaxed and unaffected look" for which Danxu was famous. As with so many images of women, the figure is placed in a setting bounded by a fence, suggesting the boundaries and limitations of their lives. Although she can appreciate the garden with its trees, she is confined by her life within the home. Danxu's ladies have a dreamy expression, however, that might suggest that their thoughts are elsewhere, and this may be a part of their attractiveness. The leaves of the trees, painted in two shades of greenish blue, are particularly effective.
14 lines of regular script alternate between six and three characters in each line. The last four lines contain the date and dedication, followed by the two character signature. Zhu Yun, known as Kejian, was from the area of Wu prefecture in Jiangsu province, an area long celebrated for its culture and the artistic figures who provided that history. He was known more for his paintings of landscapes, figures, and bird and flower than for his calligraphy, and one is not over impressed with this example from his hand. The fan is written in a regular script, evenly spaced and with some sense of structure, but the individual strokes lack relationship to one another and the modulation occurs in a haphazard way. The name Kejian means "a break, an intermission," and perhaps he took too much time from his studies. Someday, perhaps, one of his paintings will turn up and one can judge where his talents lay.
Seventeen uneven lines of a regular script, alternating between lines of about nine characters with those of about four or five characters, the last with title, stylistic acknowledgement, and signature. A chapter of the Huangting neijing after Meishan dongpo zhushi Su Shi Zizhan. This writing is, as Xizai says, very much in the style of the famous Song dynasty cultural hero, Su Shi or Su Dongpo (1036-1101). Su's life story and accomplishments in literature, politics, painting and calligraphy are recorded in any book on China. The calligraphy here is recognizably in his style, and this adds an interesting footnote to the sources for Xizai's style, showing that he had a broad knowledge of past styles. His career and art would make an interesting study for a student.
Plum blossoms with inscription. Tang Yifen is very well known, and a sort of Renaissance man in Chinese terms. He held an inherited military post, traveled widely, had interests in astronomy, geography, music, poetry, and, of course, painting and calligraphy. He died in 1853 when the Taiping rebels stormed the city of Nanjing where he lived out the last decades of his life, and was considered a martyr to the cause of the Qing government. This painting is of prunus blossoms, with an inscription in the artist's distinctive calligraphy. A single branch rises from the bottom edge of the fan and the tip of one slender twig just touches the top, another the right border. The date of 1803 would make this one of the very earliest works from the artist's hand. It is a fine painting, and the compositional decision to have the flowers take up only a small percentage of the available space contributes to the sense of their delicacy and spatial isolation. One can almost catch the faint scent of the blossoms in the air. The history of the subject and its changes over time have been recorded by Maggie Bickord.
Cranes on the wing. The artist's surname is Ye, but the reading of both characters of his given name is unsure; several variations on the quickly written characters are possible. One possibility, relying on the seal, is that this may be an artist named Ye Zhi, pen name Shoubo, who was active in the mid nineteenth century. It is clear from the inscription that he painted the fan in Shanghai. The loose open style of the composition, the lack of a ground plane, and even the colors, have a hint of Japanese influence; there was a good deal of artistic communication between the two countries through the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
15 lines of running script alternating between lines of eight and four characters, with some variation in number of characters per line. These are followed by six lines of date, dedication, and signature. Wu Changshi, a name Wu Jun adopted later in life, is arguably the most famous and most important artist represented in this collection. He is also one of the latest, and most of his work and stylistic innovations occurred in the twentieth century. This work is dated, but the area of the date is heavily abraded and unreadable. It is most likely, however, an early example of his calligraphy. His career is as well recorded as any artist of his generation, and the extensive comments by Claudia Brown and Kuiyi Shen are readily available and need not be repeated here in detail. Shen says of Wu that he was "â€¦one of the most innovative of early twentieth-century painters, and his career best represents the process of evolution form artistic patterns of late imperial China to those of the modern era." He began his career in the late Qing aspiring to a position as an official, but ended up in Shanghai as a commercial artist, two roles which were at the opposite ends of the social spectrum. The characters are written in an aggressive and rapid hand. There is a tendency for horizontal strokes to rise rapidly from left the right, and all strokes have noticeable modulation. These are aspects of his mature calligraphy, but more cautiously expressed. The same form of the character "Jun" in the signature can be seen in an early painting found in Brown. As with all famous Chinese artists, a certain caution is advisable, and a scholar familiar with Changshi's calligraphy through his career should be asked for an opinion. Nevertheless, this is a very important work that should be shared with those doing work in this area.
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.
Prunus blossoms with inscription. Yi Nianzeng is another painter whose fame is tied to that of his father, the great calligrapher and aesthetician Yi Bingshou (1754-1815).Nianzeng aspired to an official career, and eventually held a post in Zhejiang province, which would have brought him into contact with the world of the lower Yangtse River Valley. This was the home of most of the artists represented in this collection. Nianzeng was known for his seal and clerical script, and also for prunus blossoms, as in this example. There is a certain awkwardness in the composition of this fan. Many earlier artists created a composition where the main branch of the tree descended from the top of the painting, but here the two branches cross and create an "eye" just below the edge of the fan, and in the eye the minor branches crisscross making an artificial pattern. The point of the subject is to highlight the profusion of blossoms, but here the branches dominate, and the blossoms are almost pushed to the background. It is worth noting that in the calligraphy illustrated in the Kuo and Sturman volume, there is some of this same awkwardness and geometric structure. Too few of Nianzeng's works have been illustrated to make a general judgment. In the future this critique can be used to judge his other works.
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.
Two scholars, one with a qin, seated on a riverbank with two large pines in the foreground. Ju-hsi Chou mentions Dejian in his essay on southern painters, and points out that he was a prominent landscape artist in Shanghai in the 1860s. Another source extends his period of activity through the late nineteenth-century. One other painting by Jin Dejian is mentioned in a recent catalog, unfortunately, not illustrated. It is interesting to compare this image to that found in the work by Lianxi, also in this collection. Both use the same visual conceit of the scholar in the landscape with his musical instrument. The artist in other works focuses on the figure, and the landscape seems somehow unimportant. In this fan, the great pine trees and the vista that opens up to the right dwarf the diminutive figures. The result is that the scene is both more contemplative and more suggestive of meaning.
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.
Two blocks of regular script, the first in seven lines of nine characters each, the second in five lines of eleven characters, except the last with only five characters. After these five, in the same column, is the date. At the far right and far left are dedicated to the same individual, called Haimen. There is no record of either artist in the sources. The two texts are written in slightly different hands in a formal script, following standard examples that a student would use to learn proper technique. In this sense they are less impressive than, for instance, the preceding example.
Landscape in the manner of Juran. Like Yi Nianzeng, whose work is also in this collection, Ho Weipu was of the family of one of the great calligraphers of the middle Qing dynasty, Ho Shaoji (1799-1873). A grandson, Ho's life overlapped that of his grandfather by thirty years, and he must have been able to absorb some of the lessons and stories that the older Ho wished to convey to posterity. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Shanghai was fast becoming one of the most metropolitan-and infamous-cities in the world. Ho's participation in this environment is indicated by the colophon he wrote on an album by the London-educated and very influential artist Jin Cheng. Ho displays his erudition in the history of painting by noting that his painting is modeled after a small album leaf by the Five Dynasties artist/monk Zhuran. Even today, there is debate about the exact nature of Zhuran's work, and this work is much closer to late Ming and early Qing conceptions of the artist than to a theoretical original. The major forms are sketched out in large blocky masses, and then modeled with blunt overlapping strokes the Chinese call cun. This landscape is not too dissimilar from the one in the Henricksen collection.
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.
The lotus, the fan and the robe pulled back from the neck all suggest the season of summer, and the subject of the scholar taking his ease. The lotus, the fan, and the robe pulled back from the neck all suggest the season of summer, and the subject of the scholar taking his ease in the garden during the summer has a long history. One famous example, not at all connected to this one in composition, is by Liu Guandao, probably dating from the early years of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). The isolation and skillful arrangement of the three main elements of the composition, the pot of lotus, the seated figure, and the garden rock are typical of the Shanghai school, which was by far the most creative force in nineteenth century painting. The elongated face and the modulated and somewhat jerky lines of drapery are also seen in other works by Ren Xun. This is a convincing work by one of the major masters of the century. Ren Yi, who was indebted to Xun for some instruction but who soon surpassed him in popularity, did a very similar painting, also on a fan. One could write a long essay on the differences and similarities between teacher and student.
19 lines of running script, the lines alternating between longer lines of five to six characters and shorter lines of three to four characters; first four lines with dedication (to a 'Yunxi lianchi dashi') and a date ('jiyani 1794') which is the date the artist, Mei Zhizhi, was born; last line with signature of artist. Mei Zhizhi, called Yunsheng, is one of the earlier artists in the collection. His home was Jiangdu in Jiangsu province. The date given in the second line does not fit into the artist's lifetime, nor is it in the usual place for dating a work of art. It is yet to be determined whether the date refers to the year of the artist's birth or if this is a coincidence. Outside of the dictionary citation, no other information was found on the artist. He was a zhuren in 1839, which means he would have had a modest, perhaps local, reputation as a scholar. Although he was in his forties when he attained this honor, it took many scholars years of trying before they succeeded at the exams. He was only 50 years old when he died five years later. The well formed and disciplined characters suggest a person who had spent many years studying the masters, in this case, most likely the famous Song calligrapher Huang Tingjian. The energy of the brush moves from line to line and character to character in a fluent and convincing manner. Zhizhi's brief citation does mention that he was known for his running script, and this fan suggests that his reputation was deserved.
The painting pairs chrysanthemums, an appropriate flower for an artist whose pen name means 'scholar of the autumn' with Chinese garden rocks. Huang Ju, pen name Qiushi, was from Songjiang in Jiangsu province. He was known as a painter of landscapes, figures, the bird and flower genre, and seal carving. His models were from the orthodox school: Yun Shouping for flowers and Wang Hui for landscape. He lived for sixty years, and that alone could establish one's reputation in a culture that revered the aged. The painting pairs crysanthemums, an appropriate flower for an artist whose pen name means "scholar of the autumn," with Chinese garden rocks. These stones, worn through by the ages and dredged up from the depths of lakes, were prized as ornaments in gardens and commanded high prices-as they still do today. The same idea of a garden rock appears in the fan painting in this collection by Ren Xun.
The fan is ovoid shaped. It has scene along the river banks with willows and misty distances. The ovoid shape of the fan suggests forms used much earlier, and the scene along a river-banks with willows and misty distances supports this theory. Such scenes were a hallmark of the Song painter Zhao Lingrang, and while Gu Yun does not mention him specifically, any classically trained artist would have been familiar with his work, even if through copies.
Two women seated in a pavilion by the water. The artist is not recorded in standard sources. For the record, there is an individual with the pen name Xisai named Tai Zhengqi. He was active in the late nineteenth century, about the time the fan was painted. He is not from Quantang (Hangzhou), however, and he was known as a calligrapher, not a painter. The painting is not without merit. The landscape depicted is complex; on the right a river valley draws the eye back into space. On the left the mountain peaks close in around a temple nestled among a grove of blossoming trees. Just to the right of center, two women are seated in a pavilion whose foundation rises from the water. This is not a standard scene, especially for a fan, and it would have taken someone who knew the art of painting to arrange all these pieces into an effective composition.
An ovoid shaped fan filled with ten lines of running script, followed by a single line with signature. The calligraphy in this example is particularly attractive. It was written with a smooth rhythm, and each character is given an appropriate weight in the line. Within each character, the individual strokes are also well arranged. Such features cannot come from considered planning as each stroke is made, but can be had only through long practice.
Bamboo and cicadas with inscription. Zhang Pan was from Dingxing in Hebei province, and held an official post in Wuding in Shandong province. He was known as a calligrapher, especially in the seal and clerical script, as well as a painter of the bird and flower category, illustrated by the present example. He worked in the manner of Yao Yuanzhi,whose work is in this collection, and the earlier Qing artist Bian Shoumin, who was famous for his paintings of geese. Zhang may well have been a student of Yao Yuanzhi, since their lives overlapped by several decades. This painting of two cicadas on a willow tree, one on the trunk and one on the slender branch is of an unusual subject, but painted with restraint and great skill. A subject such as this is ideal for the fan format, since the twisting trunk and wind-blown branches can be arranged to fit the available space. There is a resonance between the cicada, an insect associated with rejuvination and rebirth through its habit of emerging from the ground after seven years of burial, and the aged twisting trunk juxtaposed with the fresh new leaves.
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.
Playing the pipa amid the red leaves of autumn. . This fan is a particularly nice figure painting, which like his other fan in this collection, follows the approach to figure painting, especially in the faces, developed in the Shanghai area by Qian Hui'an and his followers. Despite this, Zhaohan makes allusion to an earlier Sing painter famous for his figures when he makes reference to Xinlo shanren (Hua Yan) in his inscription.
Seven lines of running script on a round fan, followed by a single line with the dedication and signature, which is unclear. This is an attractive example of the running script, by a writer who confidently and quickly wrote out this piece. There are some curious inconsistencies in the scale of characters, some being very small and other quite large. The distinctive cipher that is the signature should be able to be identified at some later date.
There are two blocks of calligraphy: on the right are six lines of clerical script with eight characters to a line, seven in the last line. On the left, a longer block in smaller regular script, eight lines with about sixteen characters to the line. Within the last line is the dedication and signature. Ma Xifan is not recorded in the sources I used. The calligraphy on the right appears to be a memorial for an individual, very likely from a Han dynasty source. It is written in a restrained clerical script, emphasizing the horizontal structure of the characters. The rounded ends of the horizontal strokes suggest similar features in the brushwork of Yang Xian (1819-1896), although there is no documentation for this connection. The calligraphy is done with some skill, and the artist must have been a person who took the art of calligraphy seriously.