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Fu Baoshi’s inscription on this work includes a tetrasyllabic quatrain expressing his esteem for his predecessor and how he carried on the traditions of ancient Chinese painters. He notes that in the spring of that year (1945), he had admired a ten-leaf album called Returning (Guiqulai tu) by the Ming-dynasty (1368–1644) painter Chen Hongshou (1598–1652). Fu made several attempts to copy the landscapes but never succeeded. When an inscription on one of the album leaves entitled “Appreciating Fans” came to mind, he finally managed to create this painting. The inscription ends with the date—the day before Duanwu Festival (also known as Dragon Boat Festival) in the yiyou year (1945)—and the location as the western suburbs of Chongqing. Along with the inscription, four seals serve as additional signatures; they are a square seal with “Fu” (the artist’s surname) in relief, which shows the characters in vermillion ink; a square seal with “Baoshi, Great Wealth” (Baoshi dali) in intaglio, which shows the characters outlined by vermillion ink; a rectangular seal with “Yiyou” (the year 1945) in relief; and a square seal with “Newly Established Destiny” (Qiming weixin) in relief.
Fu Baoshi highly esteemed Chen for preserving and innovating the highly-developed traditions of Chinese painting. In his paintings of historical figures, Chen spent a great deal of time researching his subjects in order to fully understand them; he often came to admire them throughout this process. Once he grasped the figure in his mind, he would form them from the tip of his painting brush. He was able to express every subject’s inner qualities and personality traits. His influence on Chinese artists from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century cannot be underestimated. Some of Fu’s works show signs of his imitation of Chen’s techniques for painting contours and figures and other aspects of how he blended the earlier artist’s methods and approaches into his own.
This painting is a result of Fu’s appreciation of Chen’s Returning. He produced from memory this imitation of the section entitled “Appreciating Fans” (Zan shan). Although the work is modeled after Chen’s version of this classic theme, Fu’s work has some unique features. The figures’ exaggerated forms and the thin lines defining the drapery of their garments show Chen’s approach. However, the large rock serving as a table and the small objects are done in Fu’s own style.
The scene shows a painter after finishing his work on two fans. He closes his eyes and crosses his fingers in contemplation as if recalling the completed artistic process. The tetrasyllabic quatrain in the artist’s inscription shows his reverence for his predecessor and how painting allows Fu to divert himself from a variety of emotions. In fact, Fu Baoshi painted figures in order to portray his own condition and express his personal aspirations.
The Palace Museum received this work as a donation from Fu Baoshi’s wife Luo Shihui.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying