Man and woman in a boat moored before a large rock. Shen Zhaohan, zi Xinhai, lived well into the twentieth century. Would that someone would have interviewed him before he died in 1941. A recent work records his activity in the early twentieth century, when he was a member and for a time Director of the Shanghai-based Yuyuan Shuhua Shanhui (The Yu Garden Charitable Association of Calligraphy and Painting), which was founded only in 1909. Laing records two other artist organizations to which he belonged. Such group activities document the social organizations formed by painters in the early twentieth century to improve their status in the community and financial well-being. He would certainly have been conversant with those of the "Nine Friends" that were of his generation. The works recorded in Laing's Index are dated between 1896 and 1935, so the 1884 date would make this one of his earliest works. The thin elongated faces are clear references back to the Shanghai School and painters like Ren Xun, Qian Huian, and Ni Tian. His other recorded works are all figures and flowers. Even though there is clear precedent for the style that Zhaohan uses here, the painting has an attractive composition, with the two figures set to the right framed by the diagonal of the large rock behind them. The technique in the drapery of the figures is well done, and in line with other late nineteenth century artists. The artist has provided the title in his inscription.
Three passages written in a small regular script, each followed by a longer section in much smaller characters, each with several dozen characters. The name Zheng Xian is clearly written, and the two characters that precede the name, Yian, must be his pen name. The "an" character is written in a more complex form than is usually encountered, and it is worth noting that Yian is also the studio name of the famous early Ming artist-collector Xiang Shengmo. Assuming, from the form of the dedication, that Zheng Xian is a nineteenth century artist, one might explore the possibility of some link to the more famous Ming artist. The characters are small enough to test the eyesight of anyone. At the end of the last of the small inscriptions are three characters that mean "the literature of the Six Dynasties" (roughly the fourth to sixth centuries). At such a tiny scale, calligraphy seems more an expression of the strength of the eye and of technical virtuosity than artistic expression. This is not the only piece written in such tiny characters, however.
Twenty large clerical script characters, only two characters to a line, followed by three lines of smaller regular script characters with the date, dedication and signature. Yunsheng was one of the few artists in the collection to have attained success in the metropolitan exams and received his jinshi degree in 1822. Kuo and Sturman relate his eccentric behavior. The clerical script in this fan is close to that found in the example in Guo and Sturman. These authors note that in his writing Zhai tended to make less use of the modulated stroke found in some clerical script models, and that seems the case here. While it does appear, the overwhelming emphasis is on the horizontal lines that create a ladder-like structure. Zhai followed his teacher Gui Fu in the study of Han dynasty stelae, where the classical examples of the clerical script are to be found.
The temple nestled in the mountains inside a stone wall suggests a romantic retreat, far removed from the urban life. The buildings and rocks are surrounded by dense low shrubs and there are lumpy peaks of mountains. The identification of this artist is tentative. Zhu Chengshou is recorded, but the only information given is that he was appointed to the court as a gongsheng (senior licentiate) in 1869. While this date is almost in the middle of two possible years on the sixty-year cycle for bingshen, a gongsheng appointment would come only after one had established a reputation, so an earlier date seems most likely. The temple nestled in the mountains inside a stone wall suggests a romantic retreat, far removed from the urban life that any official would have led. The buildings and rocks surrounded by dense low shrubs reminds one of the paintings of Gong Xian, a famous artist from earlier in the dynasty. Then again, the lumpy peaks of the mountains suggest the style of the Five Dynasties artist Zhuran: perhaps both references were intended. A path enters the scene at bottom right, continues past the temple gate, and then crosses a stream before exiting left. This is a very attractive work, with a personal style.
Eleven lines of block clercial script, the last with the date. After this, four lines in running script with season, dedication, and signature. The writer has not been identified, but the clerical script would indicate a writer of some accomplishment. The poem is a well-known one by the Ming artist Tang Yin on the subject of the Qin, the Chinese zither. This type of block clerical is often identified with the very well known Qing artist Jin Nong (1687-after 1674), whose work was inspired by Han dynasty inscriptions.