According to tradition, Chinese artists were encouraged to read 10,000 books, travel 10,000 miles, and study 10,000 paintings. This fan, painted near the end of Fu Baoshi's life when he was fully matured and publicly appreciated as a great painter, reveals Fu's embodiment of these experiences. In his youth, Fu Baoshi made a concentrated and comprehensive study of Chinese art history, a process that continued throughout his life as a teacher and artist. In the years just before this fan was painted, in addition to short local trips, Fu, along with several fellow artists, embarked on two extended journey during which they observed and sketched famous natural scenes. His trip in 1960 included treks through Hubei province, referenced in the poem inscribed on this fan. These experiences heightened Fu Baoshi's connection with China's landscape and inspired him to write: "The mountain-water images become my spokespersons, or I am their spokesperson." (as translated by Anita Chung in Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904-1965), 2011, p. 24.) The literary tradition is firmly incorporated in this work through the poem by Li Bai (701-762) inscribed on the fan's reverse by Deng Tuo, the influential poet and journalist. The poem "At Yellow Crane Tower Taking Leave of Meng Haoran as He Sets Off for Guangling" clearly inspired Fu Baoshi's depiction of two figures traveling together in a vibrant and dense mountain landscape and in this way combined the best of China's arts.
An old friend takes leave of the West at Yellow Crane Tower,
in misty third-month blossoms goes downstream to Yangzhou.
The far-off shape of his lone sail disappears in the blue-green void, and all I see is the long river flowing to the edge of the sky.
-Translated by Burton Watson
Painted fans first appeared during the Tang dynasty and ever since then have been closely related to China’s literati. Originally, fans came in various shapes and forms (such as in a leaf, oval, or half-moon shape) and were made in different materials, such as silk, bamboo, and feathers, etc. Folded fans were introduced from Japan to China during the Ming dynasty. The earliest painted folded fan extant today is the Shanghai Museum’s Tingshu Fishing Boat (Ting Shu Diao Yuan Tu), which dates to the early Ming dynasty. During that period, Suzhou enjoyed a prosperous economy, and the fan-making industry flourished, which allowed this art form to develop. At the same time, court painters were gradually losing their influence. Instead, Suzhou’s Wu School, represented by the four artists Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin, and Qiu Ying, was gaining popularity. Because these Wu School artists favored making paintings for folding fans, the practice spread among other artists, scholars, and nobility and eventually became well-established among the literati.