Artist: Han Gan (Chinese, active ca. 742–756)
Period: Tang dynasty (618–907)
Date: ca. 750
Medium: Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions: Image: 12 1/8 x 13 3/8 in. (30.8 x 34 cm)
Overall with mounting: 14 in. x 37 ft. 5 1/8 in. (35.4 cm x 11.4 m)
Credit Line: Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1977
Accession Number: 1977.78
A leading horse painter of the Tang dynasty, Han Gan was known for capturing not only the likeness of a horse but also its spirit. This painting, the most famous work attributed to the artist, is a portrait of a charger of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–56). With its burning eye, flaring nostrils, and dancing hoofs, the fiery-tempered horse epitomizes Chinese myths about Central Asian "celestial steeds" that "sweated blood" and were actually dragons in disguise. The seals and inscriptions added to the painting and its borders by later owners and appreciators are a distinctive feature of Chinese collecting and connoisseurship. The addition of more than one thousand years of seals and comments offers a vivid testimony of the work's transmission and its impact on later generations.
The acquisition of this image, arguably the greatest equine portrait in Chinese painting, marked the Director's early commitment to revitalizing the Department of Asian Art under the curatorial leadership of Wen Fong and with the dedicated support of trustee Douglas Dillon.