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  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Domestic scene
    Fan painting - Domestic scene by Fei Yigeng (d. after 1870)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Mei Zhizhi (1794-1843)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Woman
    Fan painting - Woman by Wu Changhai and Wang Weizhen [?]

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape with willows
    Fan painting - Landscape with willows by Gu Yun (1835-1896)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Su Shi and friends
    Fan painting - Su Shi and friends by Ding Bing (1832-1899)

    Figure of Su Shi and his friends sitting on land discussing their adventures. The facts of Ding Bing's life are recorded in some detail. He was from the area of Hangzhou and was known as a painter, and from the visual references in this work he must have had access to important paintings from the past. Instead of the usual figures in a boat, Ding Bing paints the figures of Su Shi and his friends sitting on land discussing their adventure. This scene is also depicted in the earliest surviving illustration to the Ode, the handscroll by Qiao Zhongchang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it would be worthwhile to make a visual comparison between sections of the two works. There is no doubt that this is the subject Ding Bing paints, since his inscription starts off with the date of the outing, the fifth year of the Yuanfu era (1082) and then mentions the "Red Cliff Ode" in the third line. This is not a transcription of the ode, just a reference to it. The work is done in the tradition of the literati school, which had its origins in the work of Su Shi and his friends in the eleventh century. It is very understated, with the use of a muted line and quiet compositions.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Women by the water
    Fan painting - Women by the water by Xichai Yishi

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Shiwan

    25 characters in the large seal script, two characters to the line except for the single character in the last line; four lines in regular script with title dedication and date. The name Shiwan is certainly a zi or pen name. The two characters could be translated "Stony obstinance," or could refer to the four-character phrase, "wanshi diantou," or "even the obstinate stones bowed their heads [when the Buddhist Priest Daosheng preached]. The writer is not otherwise identified. The large seal script enjoyed a kind of revival in the later Qing, and major calligraphers like Deng Shiru (1743-1805) found inspiration and even exhilaration in the forms of this ancient script. The characters in this example lack the tense architectonic structures that Deng imbued in his characters.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape by Cao Zhibo, Ke Jiusi, Zhang Yu and Ni Can

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Ma Xifan

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with wisteria and peony
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with wisteria and peony by Unknown

    Wisteria and peony, with two blocks of calligraphy in a very small regular script to right and left. To the right are eight uneven lines followed by a seal; to the left are twelve lines varying from over twenty characters to six or seven in the shorter lines. Following this is a humble statement about the quality of the signature. The juxtaposition of the two spring flowers-wisteria at top and the peony at bottom-is unusual, and the meaning may lie hidden in the inscriptions. Neither artist nor calligrapher has been identified, and this may be intentional, especially if the artist/writer were a woman. Women in traditional culture were supposed to be self-effacing. Nevertheless, the fan is very nicely painted, both in terms of the composition and the technique. The "boneless" technique uses colored washes and no line and is used to effect here. Several other fans in the collection are also done in this manner.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar with servant in nature
    Fan painting - Scholar with servant in nature by Lianxi

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape with figures and clouds
    Fan painting - Landscape with figures and clouds by Bi Han (1731-1807)

    Two figures seated on a terrace in a desolate landscape. A large mountain rises to the rear, partly concealed by a cloud. Bi Han, zi Jiaolu, Youhan, and etc., was from Wujin in Jiangsu province and was known for his landscape painting. Although undated, given the artist's lifespan this must be one of the earliest fans in the group, probably done in the late eighteenth century. The one painting by Bi Han listed in Sirén is dated 1801 and follows Huang Gongwang, the great Yuan dynasty painter and an appropriate classic model. This work is a bit more expressionistic and unrestrained than most works of the Orthodox School. Although the artist states in the inscription that he is doing this in the manner of "men of the Yuan," there is no classic model apparent in the formation of these great stones, nor do the shrubs growing from their tops follow a familiar model. It is very strongly painted, with the very small figures on the right balanced by the large, even menacing rocks on the left. This is a very interesting work, and hopefully other works by this artist will emerge.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with cranes
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with cranes by Ye Zhi

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with bamboo and cicadas.
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with bamboo and cicadas. by Zhang Pan (1812-after 1887)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Woman and scholar with a pipa
    Fan painting - Woman and scholar with a pipa by Shen Zhaohan (1856-1941)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape
    Fan painting - Landscape by Ho Weipu (1844-1922)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Whiling away the summer
    Fan painting - Whiling away the summer by Ren Xun (1835-1893

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape with boat.
    Fan painting - Landscape with boat. by Li Zhi [?]

    Figure in a boat amid willow trees. This attractive landscape exemplifies the problems of securely identifying an artist, when no other supporting evidence is available. There were no less than five artists with the pen name Baihua (white flower) listed in the dictionary. Of these, three were calligraphers, two painters. Those two were Li Zhi and Shen Cheng and Shen Cheng. Both were active in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Since the character above the seal could possibly be Li, I have used his name first, but it is not clearly written, nor is the seal, which should be a surname, clear enough to interpret. As in other examples, one can only wait for another painting with one of the names to come to light, and then compare the calligraphy and painting technique. The scene is of a marshy river valley, through which a stream flows. A single boat with one figure at the paddle moves over the water; to the left is a rustic bridge that leads toward the higher ground at left. The brush-covered rocks at far left trail off into the distant hills in the rear. The landscape was painted with a soft blunt brush, and all details are only roughly sketched in. The technique is competent, and the artist developed an effective composition.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Woman outside picking duckweed
    Fan painting - Woman outside picking duckweed by Yang Qixia [?]

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Landscape with hut
    Fan painting - Landscape with hut by Unknown

    A hut set amid trees along a riverbank. The name of the artist is not written clearly enough to read. In the foreground is the bank of a lake or river with a single simple hut set beside a path that leads from the far right edge of the fan to the far left, where it disappears into a cluster of rocks. Around the hut grow several trees. Across the water rises a larger mountain mass, and the land diminishes bit by bit into the distance at the right. The curved horizon fits the contours of the fan, and the composition effectively fits the space. The brushwork is simple and straightforward, and one could characterize it with the word "bland" which had been developed in the Yuan dynasty as a positive artistic criterion. The artist states that he is working in the tradition of Shen Gaosai. The characters for Gaosai are partly abraded, and could be wrong. One would expect the reference to be Shen Zhou, whose work this fan does resemble. The date could be a multiple of the sixty-year cycle, of course.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Ink Plum Blossoms
    Fan painting - Ink Plum Blossoms by Tang Yifen (1778-1853)

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy from multiple hands
    Fan painting - Calligraphy from multiple hands by Multiple artists including Ye Xiuchang and Wang Lanshen

    At least nine distinct blocks of calligraphy written in a tiny regular script on a round-shaped fan. Out of the ten signatures on the piece, two have been identified, Ye Xiuchang and Wang Lanshen. The date of 1880 would have occurred late in both of their lives. Such a piece as this would be of interest primarily for the text. Other than the skill involved in writing at this scale, there is little artistic value.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy with one hundred sparrows
    Fan painting - Calligraphy with one hundred sparrows by Unknown

    A hundred sparrows spread amongst the branches, with an inscription top left. Neither the inscription nor seal yielded information on the artist. No, there are not one hundred sparrows, but titles such as this in Chinese terms just mean "a lot of" or "a big flock of" birds. Paintings such as this have a long history in Chinese art and would generally have been painted as presentations of wishes of abundance and good fortune. This is another of the unidentified works in the collection that must have been done by a well-trained and competent artist. Other works by him must have survived.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy on round fan
    Fan painting - Calligraphy on round fan by Huang Wenmei and Wang Huanwen

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wu Changshi (1844-1927)

    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 "…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.