Southern Song Landscape Painting



In the Southern Song period (1127-1279), after the capital was relocated to Hangzhou because of the loss of Kaifeng and most of north China to the Jurchen Jin dynasty, court painters continued to paint landscapes, but favored small formats and more lyrical treatments. Below is one such large album leaf by the court painter Ma Yuan (active 1190-1224). Note the poetic couplet the painter inscribed on this painting.  By this time, painters were frequently exploiting the connections between poetry and painting, either by making a painting to capture poetic lines or writing a new poem to bring out features of a painting they had done. 
To see a close up, click here. [In the guide, below]

How does the relatively large human figure affect how we view this painting?

Do you see the composition itself as poetic?


Ma Yuan (active 1190-1224), On a Mountain Path in Spring

SOURCE:  Qin Xiaoyi, ed., Song dai shu hua ceye mingpin tezhan - Famous Album Leaves of the Sung Dynasty (Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan pian zhuan weiyuanhui, 1995), plate 41, p. 162.  Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 27.4 x 43.1 cm. 

SOME THOUGHTS:  The one-corner composition, for which Ma Yuan was famous, positions the scholar figure as intermediate in the corner of the picture plane; he serves as the viewer's alter-ego.  There is an established perspective, with the vanishing point located on a low horizon.  Characteristically Song is the neat fit of elements into small spaces, like architecture or rocks, to suggest a coherence of space.  

Ma Yuan worked in a courtly, polished style to set forth a scene of romantic nostalgia and quietude.  The simple country settings of his scholars-in-retreat are ironic in their elegant rusticity, as they choose an artificial view of the world, certainly not the one  farmers came into contact with on a daily basis.  Ma Yuan's rustic settings were only superficially cut off from society; the gentlemen that inhabit them are still within reach of the refinements of culture, as seen in the starched elegance of their silk robes, servant-attendants, and mannered, effete gestures.  

Crisp, symmetrical lines indicate the use of a rounded, vertically held brush (later favored by the literati, as it was closer to that used in writing).

Close- Up


After Ma Yuan, probably the most successful of the Southern Song court landscapists was Xia Gui (active c. 1180-1224).  Pure and Remote Views of Mountains and Streams, shown below, is unusually tall for a handscroll, almost twenty inches in height.  

What do you notice about the brushwork Xia Gui used?  How does the fact that this painting was done on paper affect the impression it makes?

Xia Gui (fl. ca. 1190-1230), Streams and Mountains with a Clear Distant View, detail

SOURCE:  Fu Xinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 4: Liang Song huihua, xia (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988), pl. 78, p. 111. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.  Detail of handscroll, ink on paper, 46.5 x 889.1 cm.
To see an overview of the entire painting, click here.  [In the guide, below]

To see more details, click here.  [In the guide, below]

Xia Gui's Streams and Mountains with a Clear Distant View

Each of the six sections should be viewed from the right to the left, then down to the one below it.  Remember that you could only see about a yard of this at a time as it is slowly unrolled.

Can you see a path that the viewer would follow through this painting?







SOURCE:  Guoli gugong bowu yuan, Shanshui hua mofa tezhan tulu (Taibei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan, 1987), pp. 45-46.  Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.
More details:



In this scene, how would you describe the mood created?  Does it differ from that in other parts of the painting?

Can you recognize Xia Gui's "axe-cut" strokes?


SOURCE:  Guoli gugong bowu yuan, Shanshui hua mofa tezhan tulu (Taibei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan, 1987), pp. 15-16.  Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.


Move on to Yuan Landscape Painting