Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift and The Dillon Fund Gift, 2008
Not on view
Gardens were often designed to embody the ideals of their owners. Paintings of gardens could take even greater license in conveying a man’s character by constructing symbols and metaphors drawn from elements of the natural environment. That is surely the case with this painting by the Suzhou artist Gao Jian.
The painting was made to accompany a treatise on Chinese poetry by the renowned scholar-official and collector Song Luo (1634–1713). In it, Gao presents an idealized evocation of Song composing his discourse in a garden pavilion. Rejecting bright color and representational verisimilitude, Gao renders his simplified, almost naive vision of the garden in a spare, “dry brush” monochrome style that emphasizes the painting’s role as a “portrait” rather than a literal description of the scholar’s surroundings. The majestic pines, dense grove of bamboo, and tranquil lotus pond may all be read as metaphors for Song’s lofty character, moral virtue, and detached state of mind.
The sparse foreground and meticulous brushwork exemplify the Suzhou School of painting, from which Gao derived his style. Framed by a bold seal-script frontispiece and Song’s treatise, transcribed in formal standard-script calligraphy by Song’s son, the scroll unites poetry, painting, and calligraphy in a quintessential work of early Qing literati culture.
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (1 column in standard script)
Gao Jian zhi yin 高簡之印 Lüyun Shanren 旅雲山人
You Tong 尤侗 (1618–1704), 1 line in seal script followed by 1 column in semi-cursive script, datable to 1700; 3 seals:
1. Song Zhi 宋致 (act. 17th–18th c.), transcription of a text by Song Luo 宋犖 (1634–1713), 159 columns in standard script, dated 1698; 4 seals: