Landscape - After Zhao Qianli
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Chen Hongshou (1599-1652), was born in Zhuji, near present day Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province. His father died when he was only nine, but his uncle ensured he continued with a classical education and climb the thorny ladder of officialdom as a literati-scholar. Chen, however, failed the civil service examinations twice. He was unlucky enough to finally achieve official status in 1645, only to flee before the invading Manchu army. He served the fledgling Southern Ming dynasty for a while before becoming a Buddhist monk in 1646. Torn between ideals of service and retirement, he painted figures such as the retiring poet Tao Yuanming (365-427) in a highly unusual style with elongated faces and figures. This unique style reflected not only a scholarly interest in the strange and unusual, propelled by new archeological studies of archaic bronzes with fantastic taotie masks; but also an inner sense of torment. Indeed, his paintings of Tao Yuanming are arguably auto-biographical. Although Chen was a an educated scholar, he blurred the lines between the traditional lines of amateur literati painter and professional painter. The amateur literati painters were supposedly disdainful of money or painting for money, as they believed it would compromise their artistic ideals. Chen had no qualms however, and his studio may as well be called ‘Chen Hongshou & Co’; his pupils often painted much of his commercial commissions which he may only have signed or painted the most important parts. Further blurring the lines between professional craftsman-designer and lofty literati-artist, he broke away from traditional literati painting subjects such as landscapes, and designed playing cards with figures from popular literature such as the Outlaws of the Marsh. The present painting however, exhibits his more traditional strain, exhibiting fine, measured and meticulous brushstrokes; combining elegant line with decorative colour.