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Painting

Peonies
Yün Shou-p'ing (1633-1690), Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
Album leaf, ink and colors on paper, 28.5 x 43.0 cm

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Yün Shou-p'ing (sobriquet Nan-t’ien) was a native of Wu-chin (modern Ch'ang-chou, Kiangsu) who grew up in a family of limited means, which prevented him (as a gifted student) from attending the examinations for civil office. Nevertheless, he devoted himself to studying and even surprised his elders at the age of eight by composing poetry on lotus blossoms. His poetry was untrammeled, his calligraphy in the spirit of Ch'u Sui-liang (596-658), and his painting lively. Consequently, contemporaries praised his achievements in art as "The Three Perfections." At an early age, Yün excelled at landscape painting, especially in the manners of the ancients. It is said that when he met the landscape master Wang Hui (1632-1717), he conceded Wang's superior achievements; "In this art, your learning and talent surpass all. Try as I may, I can only rank second." Yün thereupon abandoned landscapes and studied flower painting, bamboo in monochrome ink, animals, and insects. In these subjects, he studied ancient and modern styles, becoming especially adept at the "boneless" method of ink and color washes derived from the style of Hsü Ch'ung-ssu (fl. 11th c.), grandson of the famous flower painter Hsü Hsi. Yün thus achieved fame for his own style, which became known as the Ch'ang-chou School.

This work is the second leaf from the album "Album of Flowers and Landscapes," which also includes paintings by Wang Hui. In this particular leaf, the three peonies are distinguished by their colors and positions. The peony is considered the king of flowers in China, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. The purplish-brown one is concealed among the leaves, the dark red one extends upward, and the white one extends to the back. Painters often avoided using opulent reds and greens for fear of appearing too gaudy. Yün Shou-p'ing, however, has struck a harmonious balance and achieved an elegant sense of coloring in depicting the splendor of the plants, proving his exceptional skill at handling washes and colors.
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