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  • 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.

  • 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 - 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 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 - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wu Xizai (1799-1870)

    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.

  • 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
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Dashou (1791-1858)

    14 lines of running script, alternating between lines of seven or eight characters and lines of five characters. The fourteenth line has the dedication. After this is the signature. Dashou was a well-known monk famous for his calligraphy, painting and seal carving. He was called the Jinshi monk, or the "monk of [calligraphy written on] bronze and stone," a reference that certainly praised his erudition in the study of ancient characters found in these media. A friend wrote of him, "Shang vessels, Zhou tripods, Han seals, Tang stelae: over the sweep of 3000 years milord has acquired their breadth and measure from a responsive Heaven." His early history is unknown, but he must have begun his studies at an early age and have come from an environment that treasured such erudition. The short passage begins with the date "jianzhong, qingguo, yuannian, shiyue" or "the tenth month of the first year of the jianzhong qiingguo era" which would be the year 1101. This is the date Su Shi (1037-1101) the great poet, calligrapher, and statesman, died. This, and the fact that Su Shi's pen name, Dongpo, occurs in the seventh line of the passage, strongly suggests that Dashou is writing out a passage from Su's essays, which have always been treasured for their literary style. Just as important is the beauty of Su's calligraphy, which has been used as a model by generations of Chinese as Dashou does here. Any scholar more versed in literature than I could certainly identify the specific source for this. The characters are beautifully written in a regular script characteristic of Su Shi. Each character is contained within itself, with a careful balance of vertical and horizontal elements. Over the surface, no single character stands out, nor do any seem less important no matter the simplicity of their form. This work should be of interest to anyone who is studying the sources for Dashou's style.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scene from the Red Cliff
    Fan painting - Scene from the Red Cliff by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)

    A scene of excursion by boat to the Red Cliff, illustrating the two odes on the Red Cliff. The cliff overrarches the boat and passengers, as in an innovative use of restrictions of the fan format. Zhang Daqian became one of the best-known Chinese artists of the twentieth century, and was an international figure. He lived and worked in Shanghai before 1949, and then in California, Brazil and Taiwan. He was a person of great talent who understood the entire tradition of Chinese painting, and is perhaps responsible for creating a part of that tradition through his imitations and fakes. There is an immense body of literature on his life and work, and finding how this fan fits into his development should be an interesting study. The identification of this fan rests on both the name Daqian as well as the fact that he identifies himself as "a man of Shu (Shuren)" or Sichuan. If this is indeed by Zhang Daqian, and the assessment of the entire collection as being primarily nineteenth century is correct, this would need be a very early painting by this master, done perhaps around 1920. The final word on the authenticity of the work must wait for a study of other documented early paintings, and how the style, signature and seal of this one fits in with those others (also see fan #30, dated 1930). The scene of the excursion by boat to the Red Cliff, illustrating the two odes on the Red Cliff by Su Shi or Su Dongpo, has been painted by artists over the centuries, and is one of the most popular themes in the repertoire of literati artists. The composition, with the cliff overarching the boat and passengers, is an innovative use of the restrictions of the fan format. The cliffs are painted with energy and skill, and they are continued by the pine trees that reach down from the very top of the fan. The rushes at the left counter and control the strong leftward movement of the cliffs and pines, and act as to move the boat gently into the middle ground. The painting and composition continue the compositional freshness found in the Shanghai school with a brush energy found in many early twentieth century painters.

  • 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 - Scholars at the riverbank
    Fan painting - Scholars at the riverbank by Jin Dejian

    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.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wu Tao

    Twenty four lines of regular-running script, alternating between long and short lines of about ten and six characters each, with some variation. At the end, five lines of explanation, dedication and signature. Claudia Brown comments on the expansive reputation that Wu Tao enjoyed in the late nineteenth century, and says that although his status has diminished as more attention has been given to the innovations of early twentieth century artists, he is still an artist of stature and accomplishment. He was something of a hermit, although he did travel to the three cities that so many of the artists in this collection frequented, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. He lived and worked in his Lailu caotang, or "Thatched Cottage of the Returning Storks," and landscapes were his primary subject. Although calligraphy was not his major medium, his writing in this example is animated and convincing. Despite the small size, the characters are written with energy and attention to the proper formation, not unexpected in one who was known for his classical interests. The fact that characters are written over the splines of the fan suggests that he wrote this before the fan was mounted. This is an interesting addition to the published works by the artist.

  • 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
    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 - Calligraphy
    Fan painting - Calligraphy by Wang Sirui

    24 lines of regular script, alternating between lines of nine and four characters. At the end are four lines with the same arrangement of characters with the date and dedication, followed by the artist's signature in five characters. The identification of this writer is by the last two characters in the signature, which are a pen name of Wang Sirui, from Pinghu in Zhejiang province. He was known for his draft script, which was not often used on fans. Other than that, no information has surfaced. The calligraphy in this example is not overly impressive. Strokes in characters do not have a consistent weight that would give a positive impression overall; they look labored and somewhat scattered over the surface.

  • 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
    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 - Woman in a garden
    Fan painting - Woman in a garden by Fei Danxu (1801-1850)

    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.

  • 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 - 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 - Scholar on donkey
    Fan painting - Scholar on donkey by Ren Yu (1853-1901)

    Scholar on a donkey crossing a bridge with a backdrop of mountains. This is one of two fans in the collection by this artist. This fan has a very odd shape, one that I have not seen before, and one wonders if it has not been cut down from perhaps an ovoid shape. Ren Yu became much more of a conservative artist than the other members of his family. This fan is a good example of that, and the elements of the landscape come out of the orthodox tradition going back to the Four Wangs of the early Sing. The sense of space is particularly well-handled, with a foreground, middle ground, and deep distance all present in this tiny format. It is easy to think of this as routine, but in fact it takes a great deal of skill to make this work well. The painting of the donkey does seem a bit strained, and this may not have been Ren Yu's strong point.

  • 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 - Landscape with pavilion
    Fan painting - Landscape with pavilion by Gu Yun (1835-1896)

    An open pavilion half hidden by large rocks looks over a clearing in a garden. Beyond this are two large mountains, painted in with the lightest washes. An open pavilion half hidden by large rocks looks over a clearing in a garden. Beyond this are two large mountains, painted with the lightest washes. Literati painters prized such subtle definition of the landscape.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Flowers
    Fan painting - Flowers by Ren Yu (1853-1901)

    Peony flowers and rose mallow with inscription. This is the one of two fans by Ren Yu in the collection. Ren Yu's career is well documented, in part because he was the son of the earliest and most important of the Shanghai school painters, Ren Xiong (1823-1857). One can see from the dates that Ren Yu was only four when his father died, and he and his siblings would have turned to family for help, especially to his uncle Ren Xun, whose works are also in this collection. Perhaps because of the fame of his family, perhaps because of his own character, Ren Yu became a bit of an eccentric or, as Brown says, "lackadaisical, lazy, careless and unrestrained." He was addicted to opium and his work was at times done under the influence of the drug and suffered from this. Despite this, admirers sought him out and paid handsomely for a work from his brush. This fan, according to Ren Yu's inscription, is painted in the manner of Yun Shouping (Nantian Caoyi), a well-known painter of flowers from the early years of the Qing dynasty. It uses the "boneless" method, in which colored washes with little or no ink line create the image.

  • Thumbnail for Fan painting - Scholar in forest
    Fan painting - Scholar in forest by Zhou Yong (active in Daoguang and Fengxian eras from 1821-1862)

    Distant shoreline seen at far right on a lower plane than that of the shore at the left. Scholar with a walking staff in the Cold Forest. There is some basic information recorded for Zhou Yong, who was from the Hangzhou area. He was known for landscapes, figure paintings, and flowers and is recorded as a student of the more famous flower painter Zhang Xiong (1803-1886), whose work is also found in this collection. The very general dates given for Zhou's period of activity suggest that he was about the same age or even older than his teacher. If this is true, then the date of 1828 seems most likely, although the later date in the sixty-year cycle, 1888, is still possible. The inscription claims inspiration from the early Qing master Wang Hui, recognized at this time as one of the greatest of the orthodox masters. The organization of the landscape is similar to that in a number of long handscrolls, with the distant shoreline seen at far right on a lower plane than that of the shore at the left. Such spatial inconsistencies are intentional, and they are clues for the viewer to experience space in different ways at different points in the painting. As in many works of the orthodox school, the streams and mountains are built up by layering brush strokes one over the other to create a complex tapestry of texture on rocks and mountains. The feeling of the cold season is effected by the bare branches of the trees, and the empty lonely space that stretches out to the distant mountains.