Figures and Animals

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Scholar painters were not necessarily amateur painters, and many scholars painted in highly polished styles.  This was particularly true in the case of paintings of people and animals, where scholar-painters developed the use of the thin line drawing but did not in any real sense avoid "form likeness" or strive for awkwardness, the way landscapists often did.

One of the first literati to excel as a painter of people and animals was Li Konglin in the late Northern Song.  A friend of Su Shi and other eminent men of the period, he also painted landscapes and collected both paintings and ancient bronzes and jades. 



Figures done with a thin line, rather than  a modulated one, were considered plainer and more suitable for scholar painters.

Li Gonglin, Five Tribute Horses, detail                                        source

Horses were a popular subject for painters.  


From the picture above and those here and below, can you think of any reasons why horses attracted painters?

Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), Horse and Groom in the Wind                                           source



Gong Kai, the painter of the painting below (and another later), was an extreme loyalist, who had held a minor post under the Song but lived in extreme poverty after the Mongol conquest, supporting his family by occasionally selling paintings or exchanging them for food.  By contrast, the painting below Gong's is by a slightly later painter, Ren Renfa, agreed to serve the Yuan court and even painted on official command, making him not that different from a court painter.

Gong Kai (1222-1307?), Emaciated Horse                                                                              source


What symbolism do you suppose an emaciated horse carried?


Why would it appeal both to scholars aloof from the court and scholars at court?




Note the difference in the techniques used by Gong Kai and Ren Renfa to paint horses.


Which is more in keeping with scholar painting styles?

Ren Renfa (1254-1357), Two Horses, detail                               source    


Gong Kai also painted a long handscroll of the demon-queller Zhong Kui, a popular topic.  




Can you think of a political interpretation of this choice of subject matter?





Gong Kai (1222-1304), Zhong Kui Traveling with his Sister, detail  source


To see the full scroll, click here.


The inscription on the left, by the artist, Zhao Mengfu, does not give any explanation about the symbolism of goats and sheep. The Chinese word that covered both animals, however, was a homophone for "auspicious."

Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), Sheep and Goat                                                source


Chen Lin (Yuan), Water fowl                                                                       source

Compare Chen's way of depicting a duck, below, (detail above), to that of the court artist whose painting we saw earlier.  


Besides the difference between the use of color in one and reliance on monochrome ink in the other, what other differences in technique do you see? 



Move on to paintings of Plum, Bamboo, and Other Plants