QI BAISHI (1863-1957)
This present painting belonged to the noted Peking opera playwright Li Shikan (1888 – 1961).Li Shikan, a native of Fujian, was a politician and military official during the Republic of China. Along with being a poet, playwright, and Mei Lanfang’s poetry teacher he was also a key member in Mei Lanfang’s Zhui Yu Xuan group, named after Mei’s residence in Beijing. Born into a wealthy household of salt merchants, Li studied at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, and entered the military during the end of the Qing dynasty, rising through the ranks to become lieutenant general. Li practised poetry at an early age and was acquainted with many intellectuals and artists in Beijing and Shanghai, including the young Mei Lanfang whom he met through a friend, and thus beginning a friendship spanning half a century.Mei Lanfang began to rise in prominence in the early years of the Republic of China, becoming one of the most famous Peking opera artists by the 1920s. Mei’s success was attributed not only to his talents but also a group of friends and supporters who helped promote his craft beyond Beijing. The Zhui Yu Xuan group included Li Shikan, Qi Rushan, Luo Fukan, Huang Qiuyue and Zhao Shuyong. Li in particular took up many roles, acting as advisor, promotor, playwright and public relations manager, and helped write key roles such as Goddess of the River Luo. He was known as an important motivator and key agent in reforming Peking opera. Li’s acquaintance with Qi Baishi is linked to Mei Lanfang as recorded in Qi’s own biography in the ninth year of the Republic, 1920, which described their first meeting. Mei Lanfang was an admirer of Qi’s work, and Li viewed Qi Baishi as a teacher and mentor.This present painting, a set of four lotuses, was created in 1923, three years after the first meeting. According to The Chronicles of Mei Lanfang, Mei officially became Qi’s student in 1924, to learn how to paint insects and flora in gongbi style. Qi Baishi was also captivated by the beauty and diversity of flora at Mei’s Zhui Yu Xuan residence, often visiting his home to sketch. 1923 was most likely the period when Qi and Mei met most frequently.Having moved from his hometown to Beijing in 1919, Qi slowly shifted his art inspiration and teachings from old masters such as Bada Shanren to his own style, as advised by Chen Shizeng. In turn, he moved away from gongbi style painting and worked on a more unique, xieyi type of painting, exemplified in this present piece. Qi’s strokes take a bold approach as he executes the stems, leaves and buds in dramatic strokes, where tonal gradations and contrasts in colour highlight a crisp, fresh, and dramatic vision of four lotus ponds of different seasons. With simple composition and straightforward execution, Qi employs brushstrokes charged with ink to paint rich lotus leaves, in stark constrast to the cool, long lotus stems and bursts of colours from the lotus flower and buds. Qi Baishi dedicated some of his early lotus paintings of the 1920s to Mei Lanfang, displaying the latter’s preference in this subject matter.
QI BAISHI (1863-1957)

Lotus of the Seasons

Details
QI BAISHI (1863-1957)
Lotus of the Seasons
A set of four scrolls, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper
Three scrolls inscribed and signed, one scroll signed, with a total of seven seals of the artist
One collector’s seal of Li Shikan (1888-1961)
Dated winter, guihai year (1923)
Dedicated to Shikan
Each scroll measures 134.6 x 33.6 cm. (53 x 13 ¼ in.)
(4)4

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