|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,
Fu Xinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 3: Liang
Song huihua, shang (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988), p. 63.
were a popular subject for painters.
From the picture above and
those here and below, can you think of any reasons why horses attracted
Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), Horse and Groom in the
Zhao Mengfu, Horse and Groom in the Wind, in James
Cahill, Ge jiang shan se - Hills Beyond A River: Chinese
Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368, Taiwan edition
(Taipei: Shitou gufen youxian gongsi, 1994), pl. 1.14, p.
38. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taiwan.
Album leaf, ink on paper, 22.7 x 49 cm
Zhao Mengfu, the painter of this picture and the one below of a
sheep and goat, was a descendant of the Song imperial family.
For ten years after the fall of Hangzhou he kept to himself and
his circle of talented friends interested in poetry, painting,
and calligraphy, but in 1286 he accepted an invitation to to
serve the Yuan court. He quickly gained favor with
Khubilai (as a regular official, not a court painter) which
enabled him to speak up for Confucian values at court. In
the North, he saw paintings not seen by southerners in a century
and a half, and did much to revive Tang styles in his painting.
Besides paintings of animals, Zhao did landscapes, bamboo, old
trees, and religious subjects.
|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
Gong Kai (1222-1307?), Emaciated Horse, in Genjidai no
kaiga (Tokyo: Yamato Bunkakan, 1998), pl. 1, p. 26.
Collection of the Osaka Municipal Museum.
Handscroll, ink on paper, 29.9 x 56.9 cm.
What symbolism do you suppose an emaciated horse carried?
Why would it appeal both to scholars aloof from the
court and scholars at court?
THOUGHTS: Scholars had long likened themselves to horses.
Mistreated horses are still noble animals, like the noble but
maligned scholars. Thin horses could represent the scholar
who suffers poverty rather than work for a corrupt government,
but could also represent the scholar-official who is so devoted
to the welfare of the people that he grows poor in office.
Ren's painting is
actually part of a larger composition, with a fat horse and this
thin horse. Ren's inscription says that the fat horse
represents the prosperous official who uses his position to
enrich himself, while the thin horse is the self-sacrificing
official who grows thinner from serving in office.
Note the difference in the techniques used by Gong Kai and Ren
Renfa to paint the horses.
Which is more in keeping with scholar painting
Ren Renfa (1254-1357), Two
Fu Xinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 5:
Yuandai huihua (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1989), pl. 36, p. 53.
Collection of the National Palace Museum, Beijing.
Handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 28.8 x 143.7 cm
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?
Some scholars suspect that Gong Kai was implying that the
country needed demon quellers to rid the land of the demon-like
Gong Kai (1222-1304), Zhong Kui
Traveling with his Sister, detail
Xinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 4: Liang Song
huihua, xia (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988), pl. 150, p. 204.
Collection of the Freer Gallery of Art. Detail of handscroll, ink on paper, 33 cm x 1.6 m.
legend of Zhong Kui goes back to a Tang dynasty story of Emperor
Xuanzong encountering first a small demon who stole his favorite
concubine's embroidered perfume bag and his own jade flute and then a
large demon who came to the emperor's aid by not only catching the
small demon but gouging out his eyes and eating him. When
Xuanzong questioned this helpful demon, the demon introduced himself
as Zhong Kui, a man who had committed suicide by dashing his head
against the palace steps decades earlier on learning that he had
failed the palace examination. In gratitude for the posthumous
honors the Tang emperor had then bestowed on him, Zhong Kui had vowed
to rid the world of mischievous demons.
Zhong Kui was often depicted
in the company of the demons he had subjugated, as here.