Landscape with Trees, painted for Wang Shih-Chen (1634-1711)
Kung Hsien (Gong Xian)
17 century A.D.
Hanging scroll: ink on satin
h 61 -1/4 x w 19 -1/2 inches
h: Pan-ch'ien, Pan-mu, Ch'ai-chang-jen, Yeh-i
Born in K'un-shan, Chiangsu Province, Kung Hsien eventually became the leading I-min ("leftover subject") painter in Nanking.
He died in poverty, never caring to promote himself or his paintings, and yet is considered to be the most famous of the Individualist
group of "Eight Masters from Nanking." He is admired for closely following the Sung masters, yet creating exciting new pictorial
expressions through innovative brushwork. His works are hauntingly beautiful renditions of a shadowy world.
The brilliant and influential connoisseur and collector Chou Liang-kung (1612-1672) wrote in his famous treatise on paintings
of this period, the Tu Hua Lu, "Kung Hsien was of an eccentric nature and found it difficult to associate with other people.
As a painter he swept away the common mannerism (trodden path) and produced very deep and original works. He said of himself,
"there has been nobody before me and there will be nobody after me." (Translation from Siren)
"In an article I wrote on Kung Hsien I trace his style using various methods [all that was available to me then] showing how
he begins with a linear manner adopted from Anhui and other masters of that time, then, affected by foreign pictures, adds
light-and-shadow stippling or shading, so as to render volumetric masses. This painting must be from [his early period] around
1666-1667.Then [he goes into] his great middle period and a late period in which he produces more, and more quickly, dropping
the careful stippling for the most part and working in fast-running line and dotting. The Kung Hsien handscroll [also in this
exhibition], which has only a simple signature must be late [in his work]. The Willow Dwelling [hanging immediately to the
left of this scroll] with calligraphy is probably also fairly late. All the way through he avoids the proper brushwork of
the Orthodox masters and uses brush techniques that get him condemned for "bad brushwork". . . And his high reputation now
is a modern thing, same as Shih-t'ao and others."