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Touring the Red Cliffs by Boat

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Period: Dated 1943
Medium: Color and ink on paper
Format: Hanging scroll

Artist(s): Fu Baoshi (1904–1965)

Dimensions: Length: 111.2 cm; width: 59.2 cm

The artist’s inscription indicates the time of painting as the end of the guiwei year (1943) at Dongchuan. The four seals accompanying this inscription are a square seal with “Baoshi, Great Wealth” (Baoshi dali) in intaglio, which shows the characters outlined by vermillion ink; “Fu” (the artist’s surname); “Newly Established Destiny” (Qiming weixin); and a rectangular seal with “Seal Infatuation” (Yinchi) in relief, which shows the characters in vermillion ink. A second inscription on the painting notes November 16 of the thirty-third year of the Republic of China (1944) as the fifty-third birthday of Guo Moruo (1892–1978), to whom Fu presented this work as a gift. The location of the inscription is Jin’gang in Chongqing. Accompanying this inscription is a square seal with “Personal Seal of Baoshi” (Baoshi siyin) in intaglio.

Guo Moruo was a mentor and friend to Fu Baoshi. The artist often presented paintings to Guo for his birthdays; this work is one example. The scene depicts “Former Rhyme-Prose on ‘Red Cliff’” (Qian Chibi fu) by the Song-dynasty (960–1279) literatus Su Shi (1037–1101). The painting shows three people in a boat on the Yangtze River at the traditionally-recognized site of the Battle at Red Cliff (ca. 208 or 209 CE). The central figure holding a cup of wine is Su Shi talking to his companions about his optimistic perspective on life. The figure on the right holds a flute (dongxiao, which is played while held vertically). The third figure on the left is a monk holding onto the side of the boat. The dishes and wine vessels on either side of the boat are scattered untidily. Gentle waves surround the boat as it moves along the river.

Fu painted the theme “Touring the Red Cliffs by Boat” several times. Each work is different. This arrangement is a creative combination of what is visibly represented on the painting and what is left unpainted and left to the viewer's imagination. The abruptly-rising cliffs and the breadth of the water’s surface create an impressive contrast. The three figures enjoying their wine betray a pessimistic view of the brevity of life juxtaposed with Su Shi’s positive approach to life. The expressive work represents the extraordinary qualities of Fu’s artistry.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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