Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

近代 天馬圖 軸
Heavenly Horse

Artist:
Xu Beihong (Chinese, 1895–1953)
Period:
Republic period
Date:
dated 1942
Culture:
China
Medium:
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:
Image: 26 5/8 x 11 1/8 in. (67.6 x 28.3 cm) Overall with mounting: 89 x 18 1/8 in. (226.1 x 46 cm) Overall with knobs: 89 x 21 in. (226.1 x 53.3 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
The Lin Yutang Family Collection, Gift of Richard M. Lai, Jill Lai Miller, and Larry C. Lai, in memory of Taiyi Lin Lai, 2005
Accession Number:
2005.509.15
Not on view
All his life, Xu Beihong championed the revitalization of Chinese painting through an integration of Western-style realism and Chinese brush techniques. Here, using sharp tonal contrasts of ink and white paper, Xu's swift rendition of this noble steed embodies the spirit of a traditional "ink play." The horse's naturalistic pose is deftly captured in abbreviated brushwork. The chiaroscuro modeling of its form is more subjective than scientific, but the horse's accurate anatomy and the convincing foreshortening of its body reflect Xu's solid grounding in Western academic art. The hauteur of the unleashed, unmounted animal isessentially Western in character, whereas its mane and tail, blowing unnaturally in opposite directions, attests to the artist's ultimately subjective (Chinese) approach.

Xu's passionate images of horses, a traditional symbol of Chinese martial spirit, were intended to inspire patriotic resistance during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). Here, for example, the artist reveals his own sense of frustration by adding a poem by Du Fu (712–770) that describes a famous breed of war horses that had been put to pasture because of their old age despite their continued willingness to fight:

Nanshi [in Gansu province] is a congenial habitat for heavenly horses;
Tens of thousands of them are always stalwart.
Floating clouds expand across the vast frontier;
Autumn grasses grow tall over the mountains.
I have heard that the pure bloodline of dragon-horses
Lives on in the aging Sushuang horse.
Neighing sadly longing to fight,
It stands tall facing the sky.

(trans. by Shi-yee Liu)
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (17 columns in semi-cursive script)[1]

Nanshi [in Gansu Province] is a congenial habitat for heavenly horses;
Tens of thousands of them are always stalwart.
Floating clouds expand across the vast frontier;
Autumn grasses grow tall over the mountains.
I have heard that the pure bloodline of dragon-horses
Lives on in the aging Sushuang.[2]
Neighing sadly longing to fight,
It stands tall facing the sky.

For the compassionate youngster Wushuang [Lin Taiyi] to keep. In the autumn of the renwu year [1942] Beihong wrote the poems by old Du [Fu].

南使宜天馬,由來萬匹強。浮雲連陣沒,秋草遍山長。
聞說真龍種,仍殘老驌驦。哀鳴思戰鬥,迥立向蒼蒼。

無雙仁姪惠存。壬午之秋悲鴻寫老杜詩。

Artist’s seal

Bei 悲

Collectors’ seal

Li Ming 黎明 (Richard M. Lai, 1920–2011) and Lin Taiyi 林太乙 (Taiyi Lin Lai, 1926–2003)
Li Lin 黎林


[1] Documentation from Shi-yee Liu, Straddling East and West: Lin Yutang, A Modern Literatus: The Lin Yutang Family Collection of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, no. 8, p. 53.

[2] Sushuang is a generic name for great horses.
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