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Worthy of Your Connoisseurship: Lan Ying’s River Landscape after Four Past Masters (1624)
Zaixin Hong
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Among hundreds of surviving paintings by or attributed to Lan Ying (1585–after 1666), River Landscape after Four Past Masters (Fang si jia shanshui juan 仿四家山水卷), now in the Seattle Art Museum, stands out as a milestone in the long and successful career of a professional artist of seventeenth-century China.

A native of Qiantang (today's Hangzhou), Zhejiang Province, Lan Ying already showed his talent in painting at the age of eight. His greatest achievements distinguish him from common practice in late Imperial China that featured copying ancient and contemporary styles. About Lan Ying's biographic notes, see Wei Yuan魏 , Kangxi Qiantang xianzhi 康熙錢塘縣誌 (Qiantang Gazette compiled in the Kangxi Era), 1718, v. 26, p. 12b; Lan Ying藍瑛, Xie Bin謝彬, Feng Xianshi馮先湜, et. Chongbian Tuhui Baojian 重編圖繪寳鑑 (Recompilation of A Precious Mirror of Pictures, published around 1701), From Yu Anlan 于安瀾 ed. Huashi congshu 畫史叢書 (The compendium of books on the painting history) edition, under the title of Tuhui baojian xuzuan圖繪寳鑑續纂, (Shanghai: Shanghai remin meishu chubanshe, 1963), v. 2, p. 14; Xu Qin 徐沁, Ming hua lu明畫錄 (A Record of the Ming Painting), Huashi congshu edition, v. 3. p. 63; etc. As for modern scholarship on Lan Ying, see Yan Juanying顏娟英, Lan Ying yu fanggu huihua 藍瑛與仿古繪畫 (Lan Ying and the paintings after ancient masters), (Taipei: the National Palace Museum, 1980); James Cahill, The Distant Mountain: Chinese painting of the late Ming Dynasty, 1570-1644 (New York: Weatherhill, 1982), pp. 181-203; Vyvyan Brunst, James Cahill,"Lan Ying,"oxfordartonline.com. accessed 01/20/2011; Yu Hui余暉, Lan Ying, (Taipei: Jinxiu chuban shiye gufen youxian gongsi, 1996); Yang Huidong楊惠東, Lan Ying, (Shijiazhuang: Hebei Jiaoyue chubanshe, 2006), etc., yet none of these publications mentions Lan Ying's River Landscape after Four Masters now in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum. River Landscape after Four Past Masters, painted in the artist’s middle age, provides an extraordinary story about how the painter made his living by impressing his elite clientele through this creative interpretation and reinterpretation of four past masters. In its inscription, Lan expresses his self-confidence in executing the commission for a scholar:

“When Jihe, my literary senior, is not occupied in his research of the Six [Confucian] Classics, he is absorbed in the study of the Six Canons, which form the principles of the arts of painting and calligraphy. When I returned from my trip to Baiyue [Mount Bai, Anhui Province], I stayed at Jihe’s house. As soon as I settled in, the rainy season began, preventing me from continuing my journey home. Looking out the window, I feel lonely and homesick. Jihe therefore produced this paper and requested that I paint in the styles of Dong Yuan董源 [ca. 934–ca. 962], Zijiu [Huang Gongwang 黃公望; 1269–1354], Huanghe Shanqiao [Wang Meng 王蒙; 1308–1385], and Mei Daoren [Wu Zhen吳鎮; 1280–1354]. It took ten days to complete this scroll. I would like to ask Jihe to give me his critical comments. I dare not show off before a connoisseur; that would be like selling water to people who live by the river.”

—Respectfully Lan Ying, native of Qiantang, in the year jiazi [1624].

The last line of the inscription is the abbreviated expression of a xiehouyu 歇後語 (Chinese jest), in which “selling water to people who live by the Qiantang River (in Hangzhou),” is like the English expression “carrying coals to Newcastle,” implying “why bother to do that?” (or “it would be foolish to do that”). Lan cited it to a certain Jihe who loved humor, and knew the Hangzhou dialect as well. Around 1624 there were several people known for literary accomplishments whose zi was Jihe, yet with the information available thus far none can be identified with certainty as Lan’s patron. Regardless, the real point that Lan made is why his copying of ancient masters was worthy of a literatus’ connoisseurship and how proud he was in inventively executing the four different landscape styles identified with artists whose dates range from the tenth to fourteenth century.

River Landscape after Four Past Masters presents a scenic panorama. On gold-flecked paper the painter depicts rocks, trees, thatched houses, fishing boats, travelers, a tall waterfall, lakes and rivers, steep cliffs, curving hills, mountain peaks, and more. The myriad of landscape motifs at various depths and heights offers the viewer an unforgettable journey for the imagination. But that is not all. As the long handscroll unfolds from right to left, the viewer also encounters an impressive variety of art historical styles.

When Jihe gave Lan Ying the fine paper on which to paint, there was a shared affinity between them. This kind of mutual understanding could be of critical importance in the life of a professional painter: Lan must have known his patron’s taste well, and his creativity and freedom in choosing styles were conditioned by the demands of a market for certain artistic trends of his time.

What those trends were can be illustrated by Lan Ying’s works that survive from 1624 and before. Despite the fact that little is recorded about his life—which is the usual fate in the Ming and Qing periods for professional painters who did not belong to the literati class—the following list of his extant works in the manner of the same four masters will help us understand the special achievement of River Landscape after Four Past Masters.

—Early in the fall of 1613, at the age of twenty-nine, Lan produced an amazing blue-and-green style landscape handscroll, now in the Tianjin Art Museum. It was painted, as Lan inscribed, “after Streams and Mountains in Autumn by Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫1254–1322) with a reference to Huang Gongwang’s brushwork.” Huang was a pupil of Zhao, the founding father of the literati art movement of Yuan China (1260–1368).

—The following year, late in the winter of 1614, Lan painted for Meijian, his senior scholar in literary pursuits, a landscape handscroll in the style of Wang Meng, now in the collection of the National Museum of China, Beijing. A grandson of Zhao Mengfu, Wang Meng became known as one of the four late-Yuan master literati painters, along with Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, and Ni Zan 倪瓚 (1301-1374).

—In July 1617, Lan painted a handscroll, now in the Shanghai Museum, after Huang Gongwang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Fuchun shanju tu富春山居圖).

—At the age of thirty-six, in the December of 1620, Lan executed for Mr. Jinhou晋侯 a fan painting, also now in the Shanghai Museum, of a landscape in the manner of Wu Zhen.

—In the following autumn, a fan painting of a landscape after Huang Gongwang, again in the Shanghai Museum, was made in his patron’s Yuheng Studio in Doushan (perhaps in today’s Xixian County, Anhui Province).

—In the summer of 1622, Lan painted an album leaf after Huang Gongwang’s Clear Mountains in the Springtime. This was followed early in the fall by a leaf painting in the manner of Dong Yuan, a court painter of the Southern Tang Dynasty (937–975) who initiated the landscape style of the south of the Yangzi River. In the same autumn, Lan also painted an album leaf after Wang Meng. The three leaves are now in the Taipei National Palace Museum.

—In that same autumn, Lan finished a hanging scroll landscape, now in the Palace Museum, Beijing. Though his inscription makes no stylistic references, this monumental landscape painting shows the influence of both Huang Gongwang and Wu Zhen.

—In May 1624, about a month before he received the commission from Jihe, Lan painted for Mengze a handscroll in the style of Huang Gongwang, now in the Princeton Art Museum. For Mengze, a literary senior, Lan wrote a long inscription, which will be discussed in detail later.

This chronological list covering more than a decade is not a complete one of Lan’s early extant works, yet it constitutes a small but important portion of his extensive oeuvre. Like most artists of his time, both literati and professional, Lan recorded his authorship with signatures, seals, and colophons, leaving a record of his relationships as a professional painter with his patrons. Sometimes he specifically dedicated works to them, sometimes he proclaimed his imitation of a certain style or styles. Indeed, Lan Ying was establishing a repertoire of literati painting styles, with which he could either cater to the changing needs of the market, or display his virtuosity, or both.

The list furthermore exemplifies three categories of stylistic choices possible in the Ming-Qing periods, especially for professional artists like Lan. First, he creates paintings without providing written acknowledgment of following some earlier model, as seen in the Beijing Palace Museum’s 1622 hanging scroll (fig. 1); next, he creates works that specifically refer to a particular ancient style based on a named past master as evidenced in the Princeton Art Museum’s 1624 handscroll (fig. 2); and finally, his paintings are inscribed to announce that he had combined several styles, as exemplified in River Landscape after Four Past Masters.

For the last example, we can examine the handscroll section by section to discern the creative ways this professional artist took on the guise of four ancient masters.

The opening section begins with mountain scenery, featuring a river or lake in the foreground. At the right, by the shore are three trees and streams which flow down from the hills. Farther to the left, a village lies by the water, surrounded by hills and trees; next there is a thatched pavilion in the foreground, and a mountain path leading to a temple beyond the forest. Lan’s brushwork in depicting the hills of this opening section is reminiscent of that in Dong Yuan’s Xiaoxiang River in the Palace Museum, Beijing. Since 1597 that painting was in the collection of Dong Qichang董其昌 (1555–1636), an eminent literati artist from Songjiang and ardent promoter of Dong Yuan. Sometime in the 1620s, Lan went to Songjiang and paid a visit to Dong Qichang, so he would not only have been familiar with literati trends, but also would have had opportunities to see the works by or attributed to Dong Yuan. Lan’s 1622 album leaf after Dong Yuan (in the National Palace Museum, Taipei) looks similar to the composition of The Xiaoxiang River. Under the influence of the late Yuan literati paintings, Lan rendered the tenth-century master’s work in a more calligraphic manner and with more emphasis on brushstrokes and less emphasis on illusionistic atmospheric effect. What he saw in Songjiang or elsewhere might not have been a Southern Tang original, but at least was a copy, or a copy of a copy.

The next section of the Seattle work continues the waterfront landscape but in a different style. From the Dong Yuan-like soft and smooth brushwork of gently undulating, low mountains and trees, the picture morphs into the world of Huang Gongwang. Rolling hills are now frequently interrupted by large upright stone outcroppings, forms are less crammed, space opens out to the far distance, with villages both away from and near to the water's edge. Farther left, completing this section is still another village, followed by a range of mountains, and finally a high waterfall. All these compositional elements repeatedly appear in Lan’s early works after Huang Gongwang. Since the age of twenty, Lan was said to have been trying to improve himself by diligently learning from Huang. By the age of forty, when River Landscape after Four Past Masters was commissioned, Lan could demonstrate accomplished painting techniques and skills in composing a panoramic scene with spontaneous brushwork.

In the ensuing third section Huang’s style metamorphoses into that of Wang Meng, with a waterfall punctuating the transition. Wang was famous for his versatile talent in employing a variety of brushwork techniques. Lan Ying learned varied texture strokes from him in drawing trees, forests, rocks, and mountain hills. In contrast to Lan’s early works after Wang’s style, such as the National Museum of China's 1614 handscroll—which was likely based on a fake— Lan directly borrowed Wang’s techniques from a better model, even if not from a genuine masterpiece, in his new homage to Wang (fig. 3). The rocks and hills on the left side are painted in small and swift brush marks with a variety of ink dots, creating a unifying rhythmic texture for the whole scene. Several other waterfalls cascade down from the wooded hills, running rapidly to the river or lake in the foreground. They create twisting cloudy mists between the villages in the front and the mountain plateau above, further animating this handscroll’s vision of nature as a living force. Continuing farther to the left, the viewer encounters a vast lake, marking the transition to yet another style, that of Wu Zhen.

Fig 3: Lan Ying, After Wang Meng’s Painting of Drinking in the Forest Pavilion at Night, 1614. © National Museum of China.

This new section, the scroll’s conclusion, is equally impressive. It begins with a fisherman in his boat, facing an empty pavilion on the foreground of the previous section. That image of the fisherman embodies Wu Zhen’s reputation as an actual recluse in the late fourteenth century. To Lan, this choice had its special appeal to his literati clientele, for he could include it in his painting as a signifier of reclusion. There is a solitary traveler with a servant boy walking over a bridge towards the group of buildings by the hills on the right. In his 1620 fan painting in the style of Wu Zhen, dedicated to Mr. Jinhou, Lan had already used the same composition to please his client (fig. 4). Borrowing Wu’s bold brushwork and wet ink dots, he infused the landscape with energy and vitality. With its Wu-like note of solitariness, the waterfront landscape dissolves at the ends into a mist-shrouded forest receding between softly-brushed mountains.

Fig 4: Lan Ying, Landscape for Mr. Jinhou, 1620. © Shanghai Museum.

As a conclusion to the visual journey he had painted, the artist added a long colophon, his signature and two of his seals, all of which were important to the collectors and connoisseurs for whom he worked. After ten days’ creative work, Lan Ying was happy with the outcome. The painter endeavored to assure his patron of the worthiness of his professional rendition of the four Song-Yuan masters.

But, from whence came such confidence? Lan Ying must have recognized that he had already achieved this level of accomplishment shortly before. In May of that same year, 1624, Lan proclaimed in an aforementioned long inscription on Landscape in the Style of Huang Gongwang:

“Huang Zijiu painted a handscroll of the Fuchun Mountains. The brushwork is blunt and fluid, and the mountains, valleys, and villages are so marvelous that they make the painting look different from his other works. Mengze (ca. late 16th–early 17th century), a great man of letters, studied Huang Gongwang’s way of painting; furthermore, he has a deep understanding of Huang’s methods. While chanting poems, Mengze wetted his brush and sketched the two mountains, Mount Huang and Mount Bai; drifting transitory clouds seemed to swallow the peaks. The painting was treasured and Mengze did not feel like showing it to ordinary visitors. I made this painting especially for Master Mengze. I hope that Master Mengze will not tease me for showing off in front of an expert, but will rather teach me some clever techniques in order that Huang Gongwang’s style may be revived all over the world. How does this sound?”Pao-chen Ch'en, Cat. 30 Lan Ying (1585-after 1664) Landscape in the Style of Huang Kung-wang), in Fong, Wen C., et al. Images of the Mind: selections from the Edward L. Elliott family and John B. Elliott collections of Chinese calligraphy and painting at the Art Museum, Princeton University (Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1984). pp. 382-388.

A comparison of River Landscape after Four Past Masters for Jihe to Landscape in the Style of Huang Gongwang for Mengze shows that Lan was dealing with two types of literati clients during his return from Mount Bai: Mengze was, according to Lan Ying, good at literati painting techniques and styles, especially Huang Gongwang’s style, while Jihe was good at the theory of literati painting in general. Each commissioned from him a different but related assignment. At Mengze’s house, which though its location is unknown must have not been too far from Jihe’s, Lan not only received a commission, but also learned from an expert of Huang’s painting techniques. He used an idiomatic expression in his inscription “showing off one’s proficiency with the axe before Lu Ban (ca. 507 b.c.–ca. 444 b.c.) the master carpenter,” meaning “displaying one’s slight skill before an expert,” for he must have felt challenged to do a satisfactory job. Subsequently, he must have felt fortunate because Mengze revealed to him more “clever techniques,” which could become “secret weapons” of a professional artist to attain a successful career. Not learning “clever techniques” from the literati—who oftentimes themselves were collectors and connoisseurs—could handicap a professional painter. Lan Ying was indeed fortunate in this regard. In his youth and middle years, he had benefitted from lessons from leading literati artists of Songjiang such as Sun Kehong (1533–1611), Dong Qichang, and Chen Jiru陳繼儒 (1558–1639). Even more useful was his association with Mengze, which facilitated Lan Ying’s imitation of the “ideals” of his literati clientele, through both hands-on instructions and access to collections of ancient masterpieces.

Access to collections of ancient masterpieces and friendship with skilled artists made Lan Ying a better artist. From his earlier handscrolls made in 1613 and 1617 to Landscape in the Style of Huang Gongwang and River Landscape after Four Past Masters in 1624, we see a fitful evolution of Lan’s mastery of the Huang style. The 1613 picture shows impressive structural strength and coloring skill, thanks to the model of Zhao Mengfu’s “green and blue” style (fig. 5). Huang’s style of brushwork is visible but secondary. The 1617 work, in contrast, looks very weak in composition and brushwork, although Lan Ying inscribed that it was made after Huang’s Fuchun Mountains (fig. 6). Apparently, the weakness of Lan Ying's copy may be due to his relying on a copy or forgery of Fuchun Mountains.

Fig 5: Lan Ying, Mountain Creeks in Autumn , 1613. © Tianjin Museum
Fig 6: Lan Ying, Landscape in the style of Huang Gongwang , 1617. © Shanghai Museum.

Having learned from Mengze some “clever techniques,” Lan Ying must have felt much more comfortable when, soon afterwards, Jihe offered him a new but not dissimilar commission. The year 1624 thus marked two significant advances in Lan Ying’s artistic career: The first is seen in the Landscape in the Style of Huang Gongwang, with its demonstration of Huang’s techniques, inspired by Mengze’s hands-on instructions, and the second in River Landscape after Four Masters. The Huang-inspired section of that scroll shows how much Lan had developed his own strong and rough brushwork and “lotus-leaf-texture stroke,” which would subsequently form his signature style, along with flat top rock outcroppings, a favorite feature that repeatedly appeared in several later works.

The River Landscape after Four Past Masters is historically important in another way. We have no earlier example among Lan’s extant works of a concurrent display in a single work of a variety of ancient styles, one morphing into another. In the seventeenth century, Lan Ying was known for such a virtuoso accomplishment. Already in this first example, he could skillfully render the transformations of the four sections as a continuous and cohesive river landscape. His pride was justifiable when he wrote that showing Jihe his interpretation of the four Song-Yuan masters was not like “selling water to people by the river.”

Lan’s professional career therefore gained a new momentum in 1624. Thereafter, Lan received more commissions to reinterpret Huang Gongwang as well as to create various metamorphic compositions. During the next forty years he enjoyed a high reputation among art patrons.

The pivotal change that occurred during his middle years was recognized in his biography in Recompilation of a Precious Mirror of Pictures (Chongbian Tuhui Baojian 重編圖繪寳鋻), published around 1701:

“Lan Ying……was inspired to know the secret of painting by following [the style of] Huang Zijiu. ….. Since middle age he had established his reputation.…..”

Despite various criticisms of him as a professional artist after his death, admiration for Lan Ying continued, as evidenced by the later comments added to the left of his inscription at the end of the River Landscape after Four Masters handscroll. More than two hundred years later, Chen Qingyong陳慶鏞 (1795–1858, jinshi [degree in the civil service examination] received in 1832) contributed a postscript in verse requested by a collector named Xingwu省吾 (zi or hao Molin墨林), who then owned the painting, to highlight Lan Ying’s remarkable talent and skill:

The four master painters of Song and Yuan,
Equal in ability, are associated with one another.
One of them is Dong Yuan,
Another, no other than Zijiu.
We must also include Mei Daoren,
And Huanghe Shanqiao.
They were praised as the Four Masters,
In their use of brush and ink, they influenced one another.
After them came Lan [Ying] from Qiantang,
He followed in the fragrant tracks of these masters.
On his way back from a trip to Baiyue,
He splashed ink in fine fettle.
Peaks rise, mountains unfold,
Trees so densely packed, green-black they suggest depth.
Poplar and willow trees frame the path which
Leads to where boats are moored.
Having countless images of nature coursing through his mind,
Lan [Ying] uses one hand to combine the art of Four Masters.
So marvelous are the strokes of his brush,
He was unrivaled in east Zhejiang.
Among the rocks and water in his painting,
Not one stroke falls into old ruts.

Joining Chen Qingyong, in adding their praise on the paper sheet attached to the left of the scroll, were several distinguished contemporary official-scholars, Feng Zhiyi 馮志沂(1814–1867, jinshi進士 1836), Xu Naipu許乃普 (1787–1866, jinshi 1820), Li Zuoxian李佐賢 (1807–1876, jinshi 1835), Kuang Yuan匡源 (1815–1881, jinshi 1840), and Fan Chengdian范承典, whose office post was similar to Chen as Censor-in-chief. Their colophons concern some pivotal issues related to Lan Ying in particular, and to professional artists in general. We can consider them here in chronological order.

In August 1858, the collector Xingwu lent the scroll to Xu Naipu, who like Lan was a Hangzhou native, for an appreciative examination lasting more than ten days. In returning it to the owner, the connoisseur made the following observation in his added inscription, emphasizing the work’s notable provenance:

“Lan Tianshu [Lan Ying] was skilled at painting and his skill increased as he grew older…This scroll, painted in the styles of the four masters of Song and Yuan, is a carefully executed work by the master. The mountains and rivers clear and refined, the grasses and trees dense and luxuriant, the mist and clouds coming and going, and the alternation of yin and yang, all create a painting not merely for casual enjoyment but rather a work fitting for great collectors like An Qi安岐 [1683–ca. 1744]…”

Here the scholar-official was referring to a seal of An Qi on the mounting silk close to Lan Ying’s colophon. One of the most important collectors of the early Qing period, An represented the highest level of art connoisseurship in China. When An died, some of his finest pieces of ancient masters entered the collection of the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799, reign 1735-1796). Others were dispersed in the market. None of Lan’s works, including River Landscape after Four Masters, was mentioned in Moyuan huiguan墨緣彙觀, the catalogue of An’s extraordinary collection, but Xu Naipu was justifiable in addressing the importance of An Qi’s former ownership of the handscroll. It is also worth noting that right above An’s seal, there is a seal of another admirer, the Sixth Prince Yixin奕訢 (1833–1898), who was a younger brother of the Xianfeng Emperor (1831–1861, r. 1850-61) and himself an expert on painting.

Aside from his appreciation of River Landscape after Four Masters, Li Zuoxian, a native of Lijin, Shangdong Province, and a collector himself, contributed a colophon in the spring of 1859, in defense of Lan Ying, in an ongoing debate on the Zhe school of which Lan was generally considered as the last representative:

“Zhe school painting started with Dai Wenjin [Dai Jin戴進, 1388–1426] and flourished with Lan Diesou [Lan Ying]. Sometimes its popularity has resulted in criticism. But those critics have not seen outstanding works. For instance, in this painting, following the styles of the four masters, he [Lan Ying] captures the essence of each, in an exacting, dignified way, simply using the centered brush-tip technique, which frees his work from ordinary practice. And, if placed next to works by masters such as Yanke [Wang Shimin, 1592–1680], Shigu [Wang Hui王時敏, 1632–1717], and Lutai [Wang Yuanqi王厡祁, 1642–1715], this is on a par; how dare anyone disagree? Therefore, we know that for an ancient to become famous for art, he must have some ability that surpasses others. Later students whose knowledge is limited should not lightly utter unfavorable criticism.”The scroll was recorded by Li Zuoxian李佐賢 in his Shuhua jianying 書畫鑑影[24 juan] (n.p. Tongzhi xinwei [1870]), v. 8, pp. 20b-21b; Li also included his colophon in his Shiquan shuwu leigao 石泉書屋類稿 [8 juan, chidu 2 juan] (n.p. Tongzhi shinian [1870] keben), v. 7, p.3.

By adding this colophon, Li was involving himself with one of the pressing issues in Ming-Qing painting history. The Zhe school was associated with the Ming court painters, among whom Dai Jin, a Hangzhou native who developed the painting techniques of the Southern Song court artists, was the most acclaimed artist. The court style as a symbol of professional art had been criticized by literati artists from both Suzhou and Songjing areas in the mid and late Ming period. Lan Ying, being a Hangzhou native and a professional artist, was accordingly classified by biased eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics, collectors, and connoisseurs as the last Zhe school painting master, despite the fact that his models were mostly literati landscape styles. For that reason, Li cautioned that the viewers should look at River Landscape after Four Masters with an open mind. When Li catalogued it in Shuhua jianying 書畫鑑影 (published in 1870), he did not own the handscroll. But he included the above colophon in Shiquan shuwu leigao石泉書屋類稿, the anthology of his essays, which also appeared in 1870.

Following Li’s colophon, Kuang Yuan, who was the mentor of the Xianfeng Emperor, contributed his own observation early in the summer of 1859 on the characteristics of River Landscape after Ancient Masters:

“In his paintings, Lan Tianshu [Lan Ying] applied what he learned from ancient masters, forming his own style. ……. Today, when I see this scroll in the styles of the Four Masters from Song and Yuan, it is exquisite in every regard. I am convinced that the ancients are unsurpassed. Lan’s inscription states, ‘It took more than ten days to complete this scroll.’ Clearly this is a work with which he was well satisfied. The seal impressions belong to many connoisseurs. Now it belongs to Xingwu, who took it out to show me. Feeling extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, I return it after inscribing this colophon.”

The last colophon on the handscroll was made by Fan Chendian on May 16, 1860, again not as the owner but rather a viewer. There are some other seals, yet to be identified, of collectors and connoisseurs, but no further inscriptions. Several twentieth-century art catalogues and indexes have included it after Li Zuoxian’s two publications in 1870, and River Landscape after Four Masters has been in the Fuller Collection of the Seattle Art Museum ever since it was acquired from the former Tokyo collector M. Kato in 1950.The scroll was also catalogued in the following publications: John Ferguson, Lidai zhulu huamu 歷代著錄畫目 (Catalogue of the Recorded Paintings of Successive Dynasties), (Nanjing: Jinling Daxue Zhongguo Wenhua Yanjiusuo, 1934), 453b; Xu Bangda徐邦達, Lidai liuchuan shuhua zuopin biannianbiao 歷代流傳書畫作品編年表 (A Chronological Chart of the Record Paintings Survived in Successive Dynasties), (Hong Kong: Zhonghua shuju, 1974), p. 113, 337; Xu Bangda, Gaiding lidai liuchuan shuhua biannianbiao 改訂歷代流傳書畫編年表 (A Revised Chronological Chart of the Record Paintings Survived in Successive Dynasties), (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, 1994), p. 133; and Teisuke Toda戶田禎佑, Hiromitsu Ogawa小川裕充, Chūgoku kaiga sōgō zuroku. Zokuhen中國繪畫總合圖錄. 續編 (Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Paintings, second series), (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Daigaku Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo, 1998), v. 1, A55-034.

Having examined the river landscape painting in detail here, we can see how a mid-life masterpiece by Lan Ying helps enrich our understanding of the relationship between a great professional artist and his literati clientele. As we unroll this remarkable handscroll section by section, we can learn how a professional could achieve such a high-level of accomplishment, and why he remained at the same time subject to the harsh criticism by some literati critics. In this complex historical context, we can be more appreciative of River Landscape after Four Masters for its demonstration of what professional artists like Lan Ying accomplished in the history of Chinese painting.

© 2013 by the Seattle Art Museum


Dr. Wallace Weston proofread the manuscript and suggested improvements, to which the author is much indebted. The English translation of Lan Ying’s inscription on his Landscape in the Style of Huang Gongwang was cited from Pao-chen Ch’en’s 1984 catalogue entry. The English translation of all the colophons on Lan Ying’s River Landscape after Four Past Masters was made by several scholars and edited by Mimi Gardner Gates and Jan Hwang.


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