Yuan Songnian (Yuan Sun Nien, Yuan Gongnian) (1895-1966)



Yuan Songnian (Yuan Sun Nien, Yuan Gongnian) (1895-1966)

Ink and colour on paper, hanging scroll
94.5 x 33.5 cm (37.5 x 13 in)
Inscribed, signed, one seal
Condition: Very good
Provenance: Private Berlin collection

Yuan Songnian graduated from St John\'s University, Shanghai, where he studied Chinese and Western paintings. For a while, he experimented with the latter before returning to a more traditional artistic approach using a gouhua technique (a combination of meticulous and loose use of the brush). Yuan became an artist of the famous Shanghai Painting Academy.

The landscape in this scroll includes all the features characteristic of this type of Chinese painting: mountains, rocks, clouds, water, boats and small dwellings hidden amongst the trees. All are painted to produce a high level of softness, even if the colours are lively and subtle at the same time. The mountains, in dark green and blue ink colours, are the framework around which everything else is placed to produce a traditional composition. An exception to the use of ink is the clouds in the background, \'inserted\' by leaving areas of the paper unpainted. The whole style is classic and, yet, it is modern in the free use of the brush (in the mountains and trees) and in the layering of ink (in the mountains). In contrast, the boats are drawn with simplistic and confident lines.

The pleasing result, which seems both traditional and modern, has been used regularly in the history of Chinese painting. Therefore, it may be surprising to discover that a picture seemingly from the twentieth century is, in fact, from a much earlier period. This painting by Yuan Songnian is an excellent example of this. The subject matter, colours and use of the brush show a great deal of similarity, for instance, with Cloudy mountains by Fang Congyi (1301 -after 1378) in How to Read Chinese Paintings, (Cat. 25), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Congyi was a Daoist priest who aimed at representing the Daoist concept of the powerful life-energy that pulsates through mountains and water. This comparison with Congyi\'s work, and other early painters, is equally noticeable when looking at Songnian\'s River Scene, in the Khoan and Michael Sullivan\'s collection of Chinese paintings and illustrated in Modern Chinese Paintings, the Khoan and Michael Sullivan\'s collection (Cat. 136), at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.


Ashmolean Museum. Modern Chinese Paintings. The Khoan and Michael Sullivan\'s Collection. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2009.
Sullivan, Michael. Modern Chinese Artists. A Biographical Dictionary. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2006.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How to Read Chinese Paintings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale University, 2014.