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Gao Fenghan [Kao Feng-han; hao Nanfu Shanren]locked

(b Jiaozhou (modern Jiao xian), Shandong Province, 1683; d ?Shandong Province, 1748–9).
  • Ju-Hsi Chou

Chinese painter, calligrapher, seal-carver, collector and poet. The son of a minor official in charge of local education, Gao developed an interest in poetry, painting and seal-carving in his early youth, when he also began to collect old seals and inkstones. The great poet Wang Shizhen took a liking to him and left instructions before his death that Gao be admitted into the ranks of his disciples. A relative of the poet, Wang Qilei, also provided Gao with some formal instruction in the art of painting, beyond what he could learn from his father, an amateur painter of orchids and bamboo. Gao’s official career did not begin until 1729, when he took up an appointment as assistant magistrate of She xian, Anhui Province. In 1734 a new assignment took him to Taizhou, east of Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province. In 1736, having become entangled in a legal dispute involving a chief commissioner of the salt gabelle, he was briefly imprisoned; this and his deteriorating health, which resulted in the paralysis of his right hand, inevitably led to his resignation from officialdom.

His physical disability compelled him to paint with his left hand and this produced a dramatic change in his style. The former ease, assurance and strength, as displayed in such paintings from the 1720s to the mid-1730s as Peony by the Grotto were never repeated. His calligraphy, however, which had previously betrayed his penchant for the mannered repetition of specific sets of movement, rhythm and cadence, evolved and matured. The earlier tremulous, childlike strokes gave way to increasingly steady pacing and controlled rhythm.

Although the uniqueness of Gao’s style set him apart from the contemporary art scene, it also gave him a degree of notoriety, even fame. Cast as an eccentric, he was strongly associated with the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou (and sometimes counted as a ninth; see Yangzhou school), although his sojourns in that city rarely lasted long. He is more accurately described as a Shandong artist who, for most of his life, fashioned his vision in response to artistic currents in that province. A series of paintings in album format (1723; Hong Kong, Bei Shan Tang Col.) shows not only that he was keenly aware of the local artistic heritage as exemplified by such minor artists as Yang Han and Wang Yushi (both active a generation or two earlier than Gao, and whose paintings he collected), but also that he occasionally affected their styles. In the darkened tonality and repeated forms of his later works, there is a faint echo of such Shandong precursors as Fa Ruozhen, whose individualistic landscapes featured ambiguous renderings of form and bold contrasts of light and shade. In addition to paintings by Gao on the themes of landscape, ancient trees (see fig.) and crows, and flowers and plants, eight portraits of the artist are extant, painted by followers, with the background sketched in by Gao himself. Some bear laudatory comments from friends and acquaintances and reflect the image-consciousness to which several of his contemporaries were also prone. Gao’s literary works include Nanfu Shanren quanji (‘Complete works of Nanfu Shanren [Gao]’; known to have survived in manuscript form), Nanfu Shanren shiji leigao (‘Selection of poems by Nanfu Shanren’; Shanghai, 1919) and Nanfu Shanren xiaowen cungao (‘Surviving essays by Nanfu Shanren’; Shanghai, 1983). Yanshi (‘History of Inkstones’; 4 juan) was published only in 1849 as a result of the funding and collaboration of later admirers, Wang Xiang (1789–1852), Wang Yuesheng (c. 1788–1841) and Wu Xizhai (1799–1870).

Gao Fenghan: Ancient Pine of Dongmou, fan painting, w. 530 mm, 1727 (London, British Museum); photo © The British Museum For more information: www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass/ixbin/goto?id=OBJ2110

Bibliography

  • Li Dou: Yangzhou huafeng lu [Picture-boats of Yangzhou] (preface 1741/R Taipei, 1969)
  • Lu Jianzeng, ed.: Guochao Shanzuo shichao [A record of contemporary poems from Shandong] (1758/R 1795)
  • Feng Jinbo: Moxingju huashi [Feng Jinbo’s knowledge of painting] (c. 1790)
  • Jiang Baolin: Molin jinhua [Comments on contemporary painters] (Shanghai, 1852/R Taipei, 1975)
  • Zang Huayun: ‘Mantan Gao Fenghan Yanshi’ [A note on Gao Fenghan’s History of Inkstones], Wenwu (1962), no. 10, pp. 48–53
  • Li Jitao: Gao Fenghan (Shanghai, 1963)
  • Qiu Liangren: ‘Lu Jianzeng jiqi Chusai tu’ [Lu Jianzeng and the painting Exile to the Frontier], Gugong Bowuyuan Yuankan [Palace Museum Journal], 2 (1983), pp. 43–8, 96
  • Paintings by Yangzhou Artists of the Qing Dynasty from the Palace Museum (exh. cat., Hong Kong, Chin. U., A. G., 1984–5), pp. 147–59
  • Ju-hsi Chou and C. Brown: The Elegant Brush: Chinese Painting under the Qianlong Emperor, 1735–1795 (Phoenix, 1985)