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Moxibustion

Moxibustion
Li Tang (ca. 1070-after 1150), Song dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 68.8 x 58.7 cm

This painting shows an itinerant doctor treating a patient screaming in pain during a traditional treatment of moxibustion--burning wormwood to draw out pus. Each person cleverly arranged by the artist here plays a role. The drapery lines were rendered with a centered brush to make fine yet powerful strokes for "nail-head, rat-tail" lines, which aptly describe the coarse clothing of common folk in the countryside. The exaggerated, almost comical, expressions and gestures of the figures present a facet of rural life before our eyes, the brushwork and coloring following the style of naturalism practiced in the Song dynasty. This is a masterpiece of realistic genre painting from the Painting Academy of the Southern Song (1127-1279) court.

Homeward Oxherds in Wind and Rain

Homeward Oxherds in Wind and Rain
Li Di (fl. 1162-1224), Song dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 120.7 x 102.8 cm

Li Di, birth and death dates unknown, was a native of Qiantang. In the Painting Academy under Emperors Xiaozong, Guangzong, and Ningzong (1162 to 1224), he served as an Attendant (zhihou). Excelling in bird-and-flower, bamboo-and-rock, and animal subjects, his style was realistic and pure.

In this work by a willow bank with reeds, two oxherds encounter a rainstorm and prod the oxen home. They interact in a dramatic scene enveloped in light washes for a hazy mist, suggesting dark rain clouds. With mostly a centered brush, the artist rendered leaves as fine as needles, alternating light and dark for a complex yet orderly effect. The oxen bellies were also washed in ink and a fine stiff brush applied for hairs as delicate as silk, being typical of the Southern Song style.

Refusing the Seat

Refusing the Seat
Anonymous, Song dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 146.8 x 77.3 cm

This work depicts an event from the reign of the Han emperor Wendi. One day he and his empress and consorts went to Shanglin Garden, where the upright official Yuan Ang remonstrated that Lady Shen could not sit by the ruler. The work shows a garden with the emperor and empress as well as Lady Shen refusing the seat. The emperor listens to Yuan intently, the work focusing on the ruler and subject and expressing the idea of orderly court relations--the ruler open-mindedly accepts remonstration as officials offer advice based on reason and consorts act according to protocol, serving as a paragon for later generations. The figure lines are fluent and succinct, the delineation of trees and rocks fine and exact, suggesting a style close to that of the Southern Song (1127-1279).

Four Paragons of Filial Piety

Four Paragons of Filial Piety
Anonymous, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368)
Handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 38.9 x 502.7 cm

This work illustrates four touching paragons of filial piety with alternating text and image. The first story depicts the wife of Wang Wuzi cutting flesh from her thigh for a medicinal broth to cure her mother-in-law’s illness. The second illustrates Lu Ji of the Three Kingdoms period taking oranges at a banquet held by Yuan Shu and presenting them to his mother, who was fond of them. The third shows Wang Xiang of the Jin dynasty lying on ice to melt it and catch carp to feed his ill mother. The fourth story is about Cao E of the Later Han throwing herself into a river where her father drowned because his corpse had not been found. After three days, both corpses emerged, Cao holding onto her father. At the end of the handscroll is a postscript by Li Jujing on the essence of filial piety, the figures depicted with lines fine and strong.

River Scene on a Spring Dawn

River Scene on a Spring Dawn
Wu Zhen (1280-1354), Yuan dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 114.7 x 100.6 cm

Wu Zhen (style name Zhongkui; sobriquets Meihua daoren, Meishami), native to Jiaxing in Zhejiang, was one of the Four Yuan Masters along with Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, and Wang Meng.

In his landscapes, Wu Zhen was much influenced by the tenth-century master Juran. "Hemp fiber" texture strokes define the mountain rocks here using strong and vigorous brushwork. The washes are done mostly in pale ink, lending a pure and elegant lightness to the work. Wu also employed a coarse brush to depict the trees, buildings, and figures. Though the strokes do not overlap, the results are quite satisfying. Perhaps this is a painting style that has "more than meets the eye," giving this work a commanding presence.

Spring Plowing at the Mouth of a Valley

Spring Plowing at the Mouth of a Valley
Wang Meng (1308-1385), Yuan dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 124.9 x 37.1 cm

Wang Meng (sobriquet Huanghe shanqiao) was a native of Wuxing in Zhejiang and grandson of Zhao Mengfu. With Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, and Wu Zhen, he was one of the Four Yuan Masters.

Here is a field at the mouth of a valley below soaring peaks. Texture strokes for the landscape follow the manner of Dong Yuan and Juran, but the composition lacks the conservative stability of Wang’s early landscapes. Rather, he has experimented in transforming a monumental landscape by piling and compressing forms into a narrow, vertical format. Compared to later works, the "ox-hair" texture strokes are not as writhing and the spatial structure not as boldly from nature. It is nonetheless still an important early work done before his "Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains" and from the ages of 40 to 50.
("Spring Plowing at the Mouth of a Valley" is a restricted painting and on display until May 6 only.)

Gathering Gems of Beauty

Gathering Gems of Beauty
He Dazi, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 30.1 x 22.5 cm

Each of the twelve leaves in this album has a title and depicts such famous beauties in Chinese history as Xi Shi, Qin Luofu, Qin Longyu, Madame Li of the Han, Zhuo Wenjun, Cai Wenji, Wu Liju, Princess Shouyang, Mulan, Madame Gongsun, Hongxian, and Lady Hongfu.

The painter is identified as He Dazi, perhaps a Painting Academy artist whose style followed Jiang Bingzhen’s ladies, but whose birth and death dates are unknown. The left leaves have transcriptions of lines of ancient poetry by the court official Liang Shizheng from 1738 related directly or indirectly to events of the ladies depicted in the paintings. Though the works follow in the style of court lady painting, the lines of verse reveal different facets in praise of feminine virtues.

Autumn Mountains

Autumn Mountains
Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715), Qing dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper, 100.6 x 45.1 cm

Wang Yuanqi (style name Maojing, sobriquet Lutai), a native of Taicang in Jiangsu, was a Presented Scholar of 1670 who received instruction from his grandfather Wang Shimin in painting. He specialized in landscapes and went beyond convention.

This scroll comes from 1709 and appears to follow "Autumn Mountains" attributed to Huang Gongwang. Wang, however, did not necessarily personally see this work, using the painting title numerous times. The idea for the composition began two years earlier and underwent numerous revisions, the mountains on the right revealing traces of the brush. The brush and ink in the painting are spirited and varied, the composition also innovative, having the effect of fusing Yuan dynasty styles.

Fishing in Reclusion on a Flowering River

Fishing in Reclusion on a Flowering River
Wang Meng (1308-1385), Yuan dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on paper, 124.1 x 56.7 cm

Wang Meng, a native of Wuxing in Zhejiang, was a grandson of the famous painter-calligrapher Zhao Mengfu and had the sobriquet Huanghe shanqiao. With Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, and Wu Zhen, Wang was one of the Four Yuan Masters.

A total of three works in the Museum collection go by the title of this painting, with scholarship pointing to the one with the seal "Treasure Imperially Viewed by Jiaqing" as the finest. This is the one with the seal "Treasure Imperially Viewed by Qianlong" and has a poem inscribed by the Qianlong Emperor dated to 1754, the brushwork being slightly lower in quality. The work depicts river scenery with gently rolling slopes. Judging from the artist's inscribed poetry, this work appears to depict scenery on the Zha River. Buildings and peach trees appear hidden here and there, suggesting imagery of the Peach Blossom Spring.