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Frivolous artist's autumn melancholy

BETTER known as Tang Bohu in Chinese folklore, Tang Yin (1470-1523) was a prominent scholar-artist of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

He ranked first in the provincial civil service examinations in 1498 and went to then capital to sit the national examination the next year. But he became embroiled in a scam when a friend and fellow candidate was accused of bribing one of the chief examiners.

Tang was jailed and his quest for an official career ended.

Denied the opportunity of civil service, he pursued a life of pleasure and lived by selling his paintings. His cynical take on life made him sarcastic and frivolous and he is a favorite subject for playwrights.

Most of Tang's original paintings and calligraphic works are kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Shanghai Museum has two, a landscape and a figure painting.

"Lady with A Fan" (pictured left) is 77.1 centimeters long and 39.3 centimeters wide. It depicts a woman holding a fan and looking frail and forlorn. Tang might have been inspired by the poem of Ban Jieyu, the talented consort of a Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) emperor. She felt deserted after the emperor had found new love and expressed her sorrow in the poem, comparing herself to a fan "held dear in summer days and cast away with the first breeze of autumn."

The painting shows Tang's brisk and forceful brush strokes, tasteful composition and his elegant calligraphy.

The work was once owned by a wealthy Shanghai silk merchant, Pang Yuanji (1864-1949), who even took it for display at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in 1915 in San Francisco (a World Expo in those days).

After his death in 1949, his collection was split among his four children, who sold or donated pieces, including this one, to the newly founded Shanghai Museum in 1952.


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