(Chinese, from Taicang, Jiangsu province, 1642–1715)
Landscape After Huang Gongwang
1701 (Qing dynasty, 1644–1911)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Inscribed by the artist:
On an autumn day in the xinsi year , painted after the brush meaning of Dachi [Huang Gongwang]. Wang Yuanqi.
Gift of Hulburd Johnston, 1951.232
In 17th- and 18th-century China, painters of the so-called Orthodox School studied and emulated earlier artists to create original and dramatic compositions. In this hanging scroll, Wang Yuanqi has constructed a grand, semi-abstract network of multi-peaked mountain ranges and rock formations. As noted in his inscription in the upper-righthand corner, the artist took as inspiration the carefully constructed and interlocked landforms distinctive to Huang Gongwang (1269–1354), a famous artist who lived four centuries earlier. Such synthesis and reinterpretation of older styles—which is quite different than imitation or copying—distinguishes the work of Wang and other painters of the Orthodox School.
In Chinese painting, dynamic tension between representation and abstraction is often maintained, and distortion is used for the sake of heightened intensity. Nature and landscapes are common themes, providing a subject that was secular but could have deep philosophical meaning.
Wang was a member of an intellectually prominent Chinese family and served as art advisor to the second emperor of the Qing dynasty, Kangxi, who reigned from 1662 to 1722. Ethnically Manchu, the Qing had invaded China from their homeland in Mongolia and subjected the native Chinese to their rule. Despite being foreign conquerors, Kangxi and other Manchu emperors became both practitioners and patrons of traditional Chinese painting and literature. As a court-sponsored artist, Wang served to document court ceremonies, authenticate paintings in the imperial collection, and oversee the research and compilation of a huge publication devoted to arts of China’s past.
Scholar-artists often included calligraphy, inscriptions, and seals in their work, documenting the intentions of the artist, listing a dedication, incorporating poetry, or giving the artist’s name and studio. The owner of the painting would often add his own seal, and sometimes a colophon. As the work was acquired later, collectors (particularly if it was a handscroll, such as Street Scenes in Times of Peace) would add their own seals and comments thus becoming an ongoing document of its own provenance.
Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang)
American, born 1954
Landscape after the Ancient Masters
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
137.6 x 68.8 cm (54.2 x 27.1 in.)
Samuel Nickerson Endowment, 2004.451
Like Wang Yuanqi, American-born Arnold Chang also endeavors to achieve monumentality in his landscape painting, bringing his art-historical knowledge and brilliant artistic skills to majestic compositions. In this work, Chang has constructed a vast vertical panorama with layers of mountains enlivened by clouds, trees, and waterfalls. Mist-shrouded mountains evoke monumental landscapes that were first created by masters of the 11th through 14th century and reinvigorated in the 19th century by painters such as Wang Yuanqi. Layered, craggy peaks lined by trees and punctuated by waterfalls flow downward and thrust upward in diagonal and zigzag rhythms, infusing the scene with an energy that Chinese writers have lyrically called the “veins of a dragon.” Yet Chang’s deft brushwork and varied tonalities of pure black ink render a clear sense of spatial depth that is distinctively modern. Through his original synthesis of tradition and innovation, and of artistic restraint and emotive power, Chang revitalizes a dynamic and distinctively Chinese vision of nature.