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A Self-portrait

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Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: ink and color on paper
Format: hanging scroll

Artist(s): Ren Xiong (1823-1857)

Dimensions: 177.4 × 78.5 cm

Born in Xiaoshan, Zhejiang province, Ren Xiong lived in Shanghai selling paintings to earn a living. He painted a wide range of subjects, particularly specialized in painting figures and Daoist stories. He imitated the paintings of Chen Hongshou (1598-1652), a well-known painter of late Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Ren's works are characterized by the slight exaggeration and distortion of figures. As a key representative of the "Shanghai school” in modern times, Ren Xiong ranked with Ren Xun (1835-1893), Ren Yi (1840-1896) and Ren Yu (1854-1901) as the "Four Rens of Shanghai”, and also with Zhu Xiong (1801-1846) and Zhang Xiong (1803-1886) as the "Three Xiongs of Shanghai”.
  Although the scroll is not dated, the portrait suggests that Ren Xiong is a robust young man in his early thirties. It was a time when drastic social upheavals came one after another. Having witnessed the growing corruption in the Qing government, the ups and downs of the Taiping Rebellion, as well as the invasion by Western powers, the painter wears a contemplative look on his face. By baring his right shoulder, the disheveled painter looks as though he were an outlaw of the woods, with no trace of the artistic style of literati portraiture such as sitting upright or enjoying a carefree life in the countryside. The drapery, brushed with vigorous touches and fine strokes, not only conforms to his firm and valiant image, but also contrasts with his inner strength and masculinity, adding to the drama of the portrait.    

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