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Xing Xing (date unknown)

Xing Xing.
Mountain and river landscape, 1911.
Ink and colour on paper with gold, butterfly-shaped fan, mounted in scroll
65 x 37.5 cm (25 x 14 in)
Inscribed: In the river, through the sky, thousands of trees reflect illuminated universe
Signed Xing Xing, China, dated 1911
Two seals
1911 Academy of Shouzhu Xing Xing

Condition: some yellow stains, some minor ones on painting itself but mostly near the edges of paper, as expected with age; it may have had wood worms; otherwise good condition.

Provenance: formerly in a Swiss collection.

This is a beautifully painted scene representing a boat journey through a river in a mountainous landscape. The boat and the man in it are drawn in a sketchy way but conveying a clear image of their small size in relation to the immensity of the mountainous surroundings. As if to emphasize this, the boat is drawn as if in an empty space. Xing Xing demonstrates his highly technical and artistic abilities in recreating all this on a very small surface. The beautiful inscription fits in well with the tradition in Chinese painting of combining painting and writing into one single artistic manifestation. The gold, and its reflective characteristic, is in accord with the words in the poem about reflection and the universe. The use of gold leaf in painting, from an entire leaf to any small amount, including speckles as used here, is not uncommon. Even contemporary artists such as Wu Kan-Chiann (1972-) incorporate this tradition into their paintings.

Fans are often used solely for the purpose of painting an image on them. Early on, however, they only had a functional purpose. Activities such as painting were considered inappropriate because an activity was expected to be directed towards a divine purpose, unless there could be a functional reason for it. Painting, in general, was, therefore, considered an idle activity. However painting an object such as a fan, that had a functional purpose, was allowed. For this reason some of the early manifestations of Chinese paintings for the home were made on fans, round at an early time. An illustration of this is an 8th century hand scroll with female figures holding round fans displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition on Masterpieces of Chinese Painting (2013). Such fans were eventually replaced by others with the butterfly shape, painted for purely artistic reasons.


Masterpieces of Chinese Painting. 700 to 1900. Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013.