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FU BAOSHI (CHINA, 1904-1965)
THE FLORENCE AND HERBERT IRVING COLLECTION
FU BAOSHI (CHINA, 1904-1965)

LITHE LIKE A CRANE, LEISURELY LIKE A SEAGULL

Details
FU BAOSHI (CHINA, 1904-1965)
LITHE LIKE A CRANE, LEISURELY LIKE A SEAGULL
Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and color on paper
Entitled, inscribed, and signed, with one seal of the artist and one dated seal of renyin year (1962)
17 ¾ x 26 5/8 in. (45.2 x 67.8 cm.)
Provenance
Eastern Pacific Co., Hong Kong, 1988.
The Irving Collection, no. 1638.

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Lot Essay

Like A Crane, Like A Seagull: Reading Fu Baoshi's Portrait of Shao Mi

The subjects of Fu Baoshi’s figure paintings often consisted of historical figures The statesman and poet Qu Yuan (c. 343-c. 278) and characters from his writings account for most of them. He painted many of such works during the Sino-Japanese War, which were rife with symbolism. Other historical figures Fu Baoshi admired included Tao Yuanming, Li Bai, Du Fu, Huai Su, Ni Zan, and Shitao. Whether it is because of Fu’s admiration of their minds, a feeling of shared personalities, or the heritage of artistic ideologies, Fu continuously pursued and emulated their images and spirits.

This masterpiece depicting Shao Sengmi (c. 1593-1642) was acquired by the Irvings in Hong Kong in 1988. Shao Mi, whose sobriquet is Sengmi was a native ofSuzhou province. He was one of the nine painters praised in Wu Weiye’s (1609-1672) poem titled “Song of the Nine Friends of Painting,” The “nine friends” includeDong Qichang, Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Li Liufang, Yang Wencong, Zhang Xuezeng, Cheng Jiasui, Bian Wenyu, and Shao Mi, all were famous artists during the late Ming dynasty. Since his childhood, Shao Mi had enjoyed practicing calligraphy and painting and excelled in these arts. Known to be eccentric and unconventional, he he was studious and talented in various fields.

Shao Mi’s poetic progenitors were Tao Yuanming (c. 365-c. 427) and Wei Yingwu (737-792). Calligraphically, he followed the characteristics of the father-son duo Mi Fu (1051-1107) and Mi Youren (1074-1153) in his cursive script, and Zhong Yao (151-230) (as well as Yu Shinan and Chu Suiliang) in his standard script. He also emulated the painting techniques of the Song and Yuan masters, displaying an abbreviated approach to landscape with a leisurely sentiment.

One of Shao Mi’s works, currently preserved at the Palace Museum in Beijing, is a small landscape handscroll painting with the inscription: “I have just returned from the region of Liangxi and have brought two paintings by Zijiu (Huang Gongwang) and Yuyu (Xia Gui) respectively for viewing. I selected the better features [of the two paintings] and painted this one for my brother-in-law Neizhen.”” Someone like Shao Mi, who was able to integrate Huang Gongwang and Xia Gui in one painting without any detectable trace of either painter can certainly be called a genius. Wen Congjian praised him in an attached colophon: "a graceful talent full of spiritual energy, a truly gifted genius." Wen Congjian was nineteen years older than Shao Mi, yet the two became close friends. However, Shao Mi was frail and in poor health most of his life, and he passed away before he reached the age of fifty. The year he died was the yearShitao was born. Is it possible that when Fu Baoshi was researching Shitao, he also discovered Shao Mi?

At the upper left of the work, Fu Baoshi entitles the painting in seal script, “Lithe like a Crane, Leisurely like a Seagull,” and writes in running script, “Baoshi approximated the image of Shao Mi, recorded in Nanjing.” The angular and robust seal script is a relefction of Fu's talent, and the metaphor of the crane and seagull refers to Shao Mi, this frail, yet gifted painter.

One possible interpretation of the word “ni” in Fu’s inscription is “to emulate.” If this is indeed the case, then an original or relevant information should have existed. I have once seen a portrait by Xu Tai (a late Ming painter from Hongzhou who was skilled at portraiture.), with the background painted by Lan Ying. It depicted Shao Mi wearing a long robe, hands around knees, sitting under a tree, frail and pale faced, with a thin beard. The image resembles that of Fu Baoshi's Shao Mi. Had Fu seen this painting prior, or other paintings? There is currently no evidence to corroborate any theory. Lan Ying inscribed on the painting, "Shao Sengmi’s portrait, painted by a 73-year old man Lan Yin." The year when Lan Ying turned 73 years old was 1657, by thenShao Mi had been gone for fifteen years.

Several elements can be observed in Fu Baoshi’s painting: a simple literatus’s studio, a window in the foreground with a potted plant; a window in the back next to a long table with blossoms in a vase, a scholar’s rock, as well as books and paper; a cylinder containing three or four paintings. Outside the window are shadows of blue leaves, as a boy stretches his head into the studio. The recipient of his gaze is the subject of this painting, Shao Mi, who casually sits at the desk , his right hand holding a brush, left hand on top of the paper. On the table are his inkstone, color plate, brushpot, brushes, paperweight, teapot, and teacup. Although the studio is simply furnished, everything needed for a literati painter is present. Shao Mi has a gaunt face and wears a blue robe.He lowered his eyes, gazing at the paper pensively. This is the moment that the artist is about to dip his inked brush onto the paper, the instance of the first movement and utmost attention. Fu Baoshi chose this one moment to portray, a moment he himself had experienced many times as a painter. It is the moment when the viewer and the painter has the same frame of mind—both anticipation and excitement!

In the realm of Chinese painting, this composition is simple yet complex. The theme is featured prominently without losing all the details. The brushwork varies throughout the piece: bold brush strokes were used to depict the foreground window and artist’s table ; in contrast, swift outline strokes were used to delineate the figure and his clothing. Most importantly is the portrayal of the figure’s face: it must have resemblance and character, long eyebrows and beard, the wisdom that comes with old age and weak body, the expression of self-confidence and wisdom. All of these traits are present in the painting which encourages the viewer of the painting to explore the life and art of the protagonist.

At the lower righthand corner is the artist’s seal of renyin year, indicating that the painting was created in 1962. Fu Baoshi was 58 years old and at the prime of his career. As an individual “addicted to history”, he once said, “I am most interested in two periods in the history of Chinese painting: the Eastern Jin and the Six Dynasties, as well as the Ming-Qing period. The former began from studying Gu Kaizhi, while the latter began when studying Shitao and extended to include the later Qing period. The Eastern Jin was a period of great transformations in Chinese painting history, while the Ming-Qing period was the age of matured beauty (“Flower blossoms and full moon”) in Chinese paintings.

Fu Baoshi regarded the Ming-Qing period as such because there was an abundance of different schools and techniques, each with its own prominent characteristics. Not only did he deeply study the oeuvre of Shitao, but he also was able to grasp the essence of Shitao’s characteristics, as well as that of Mei Qing, Cheng Sui, Zhang Feng, and other artists. Perhaps this painting, done in 1962, symbolizes Fu Baoshi’s renewed interest in paintings of the Ming-Qing period. This combination of art, history, and theory was precisely the drive that propelled Fu Bao Shi’s art to move forward continuously.

Professor Xiao Ping
Chinese Painting Artist and Art Critic

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