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July 19, 2009

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Yuan era artist inspired 'literati' style

QIAN Xuan (1239-1301) was a versatile Chinese poet-artist during the Southern Song (1127-1279) and Yuan dynasties (1271-1368), best known for his landscape paintings which depict the idyllic scenery of his native land in today's Huzhou, a city in Zhejiang Province on the southern bank of Taihu Lake.

"A House in the Fuyu Mountain" is one of his existing pieces. The 98.7 centimeter-by-29.6 centimeter handscroll, now in the collection of Shanghai Museum, shows craggy, tree-covered foothills stretching into a misty lake. Water and vapor are not painted but are inferred by empty space on the paper.

The scroll painting has changed hands many times as indicated by nearly 300 seals stamped by its successive owners, including Qing Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). The density of stamps - both a mark of ownership and a note of appreciation - reveals the enormous appeal and value of this painting over many generations.

The landscape begins with a verse the painter wrote as the prologue, followed by a poem written by Emperor Qianlong.

At least 12 of the stamps belonged to Pang Yuanji (1864-1949), a powerful industrialist at the dawn of the 20th century. Pang was born in the same place as Qian Xuan and became the No. 1 private collector of antiques in China after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. In 1952 his children donated the family collection to Shanghai, Nanjing and Suzhou museums.

"A House in the Fuyun Mountain" shows the maturing style and brush techniques of Qian Xuan, who had a big influence on the Southern School of Chinese painting, also called "literati painting," a style pursued by disillusioned and free-spirited scholar-artists. His student, Zhao Mengfu, was a key figure in literati painting who was invited by Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor and the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, to work for his court.

Unlike his student, Qian refused to recognize the rule of Mongols and lived by selling his art works. Many of his paintings have miraculously survived hard times.


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