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Painting

Flowers and Bamboo
Hsü Wei (1521-1593), Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 337.6 x 103.5 cm

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Hsü Wei (style name Wen-ch’ing and Wen-ch’ang; sobriquet T’ien-ch’ih), a native of Shan-ying (modern Shao-hsing, Chekiang), excelled in painting landscapes, figures, flowers and insects, and bamboo and stones. His calligraphy, poetry, and prose were also of high caliber. An inquisitive genius, he once served under the Supervisor of Chekiang. However, he later suffered a mental breakdown and attempted suicide several times. Suspected of murdering his wife, he was jailed. In his late years, he sold painting and calligraphy for a living. Thus, he is perhaps one of the most eccentric figures in Chinese art history.

Hsü Wei, in addition to his achievements in the scholarly arts, was also an important playwright. He ranked his calligraphy as the best of all his talents, followed by poetry, prose, and painting. However, he is probably best known as a flower painter.

This work represents bamboo and stone as well as flowers. According to the artist's own inscription, there are sixteen kinds of flowers. From different seasons and all together in a single work, they include bamboo, plantain, plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, peony, narcissus, lotus, begonia, camellia, hibiscus, hollyhock, pomegranate, daylily and hydrangea. See if they are all there! Either outlined in ink or rendered in the "boneless" sketching method of ink wash, the brush "sings" and the ink "dances" across the scroll. There is great variety to the brushwork. While the surface of the stone was rendered with sweeping brush strokes, the bamboo was done in outlines. The brushwork of the flowers is rhythmic and quick, revealing the flowing washes and ink. The tonal arrangement of the ink varies, making for a lively and lifelike representation. Obviously, Hsü Wei was more interested in the artistic expression of the brush and ink than the detailed description of the flowers. This is an unusually large masterpiece by the artist.
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