Hanging scroll: ink and colors on silk
h 31 -1/2 x w 18 -1/2 inches
Ma Yüan was from Ho-chung, Shansi province. He was the principal artistic exponent of a school of painting associated with
the Southern Sung dynasty court; he painted during the Shao-hsi era (1190-1194) and was still active in Emperor Li-tsung's
reign (1225-1264). He and Hsia Kuei lend their names to the most famous school of the Southern Sung period, the Ma-Hsia school.
This school, working from a basis established in the Northern Sung period, depicted a natural and somewhat romanticized landscape.
In this painting, like many of his typical compositions, a dense corner composition is incorporated with an open, misty middle
ground, with views to the distant hills. Hence the artist's sobriquet "one corner Ma."
The court and the Painting Academy that Ma served were centered in the beautiful town of Hangchou, home to the scenic West
Lake and long known as a place of culture, art, and poetry. Ma Yüan was firmly associated with the Academy, taking his place
as the fourth-generation painter in his family to serve the Emperor. There are many paintings attributed to this artist but
only a very few genuine examples of his work.
"[When I saw this painting] I immediately took it to be a genuine Ma Yüan, [with a] good signature [only trimmed at the bottom],
and told [the dealer] so, asking whether the price wasn't too low. He said, 'We'll sell you this cheap this time, and something
else expensive next time.' So I bought it. As it happened, I had just finished giving my course on early Chinese painting,
through Sung, and had shown students how genuine Ma Yüans can be distinguished from imitations and copies: the more fluid
drawing of the plum tree [stiff and angular in copies, typically]; the gradual fading and loss of detail in a three-step recession;
the way the space funnels back in an S-curve, and so forth."