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Painting

Returning Late from a Spring Outing
Tai Chin (1388-1462), Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 167.9 x 83.1 cm

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Tai Chin (style name Wen-chin; sobriquets Ching-an, Yü-ch’üan shan-jen), was a native of Ch’ien-t’ang (modern Hangchow). He is said as a youth to have studied painting under local artists, specializing and achieving fame in the fields of landscapes and figures. During the Hsüan-te reign (1426-1435), he was recommended for service at court, where he was admired by the nobility for his great skill. His fellow painters, however, became envious and later dismissed him. Tai Chin thereupon returned home to the south, where he continued to paint in Hangchow. With numerous students, he came to have an enormous influence on painting at the time. Consequently, later generations have revered him as the founder of the Che School that emerged afterwards in the area.

In the lower right corner is a wall surrounding a residence blocked from view. The greenery and peach blossoms in the scene indicate the season is spring. Judging from the darkness, it appears to be late in the day. A scholar is knocking at the door as a servant approaches holding a light, illustrating the poetic notion of a master returning late from a spring outing. Depicted also is an expanse of water with a path upon which local farmers shoulder hoes and return home. In the distance, womenfolk are feeding the fowl. Although the figures are small, the details of local life reveal the artist’s skill at observation and depiction.

Though Tai Chin based the style here on those of Ma Yüan and Hsia Kuei in the Southern Sung (1127-1279), his daring brushwork emphasizes expressiveness for an impressive style that is spirited and varied. The compositional formula of leaving a large portion of the surface blank also derives from the Southern Sung academic mode. However, the surface is flatter with the distances appearing in the same plane. This emphasis on surface rather than space is a distinctive feature of Che School painting. Although bearing no signature or seal of the artist, the style belongs to that of Tai Chin and was probably painted by him when he was in Peking. Although Tai Chin’s style was influenced by various Sung and Yüan styles, it appears to derive most clearly from the Southern Sung court manner. However, he was not constrained by any particular style as he developed his own mode of painting. His daring yet mature brushwork yielded a variety of ink effects. Spirited and free, but not uncontrolled, this is a classic example of Tai Chin’s style.
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