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.
I have heard about Han Gan's ambitions, And now I come to understand him. The horse he painted neighs under a clear moon, While standing alone in the chilly wind. The horse's temper is not to be controlled by a golden bridle, And it does not even care about an embroidered saddle. Even for a master painter like Cao Ba (active 8th c.), Depicting the flesh of such a horse would be difficult.
Imperially inscribed in the middle winter month of the bingyin year in the Qianlong reign era (Dec. 12, 1746–Jan. 10, 1647). [Seals]: Ji xia yiqing, Qianlong chenhan
3. Zhang Yanyuan 張彥遠 (ca. 815–ca. 907), 1 column in standard script, undated:
4. Mi Fu米芾 (1051–1107), 1 character in standard script, undated; 1 seal:
Fu [Seal]: Pingsheng zhenshang
1. Qing emperor Qianlong清帝乾隆 (1711–1799, r. 1736–1795), 19 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1747; 3 seals:
Of the Tang dynasty painters, the General [Cao Ba, 8th c.] excels in painting horses. Among his students, only Han Gan learned the essence of his art. The important thing in painting horses is to convey their spirit. This gives them a life-like appearance. A master hand likes to depict celestial horses; To paint a lame one would be wasting ink. [Cao] Ba once painted Night-shining White; There is no doubt [Han] Gan also painted him. We can see how [Han Gan] learned from his tutor. The poet Du [Fu, 712–770] was not critical when he commented on Han's works. What a pity! Du Fu's comments were not all preserved; Only fragments remain and invite further study. Han Gan did not care to follow old styles; Established rules are not always everlasting. Night-shining White really is Night-Shining White. It resembles pear blossoms in a moon-lit court-yard. [Emperor Xuanzong, r. 712–756] rode this horse in polo games, And to banquets in his palace at the foot of Mt. Li. All's gone! The joyous moments of the past Are now like empty dreams. Unrolling the scroll, I see the lofty spirit of the horse. By tilting its head, the horse is recalling previous battles. Though muzzled, the horse refuses to be saddled. The painter's intention is at once obvious and concealed. Each time I look at a good horse, I am thinking of an eclectic Daoist doctrine.
Imperially inscribed in the early third lunar month of the dingmao year in the Qianlong reign era (1747). [Seals]: Shu fang run, Qianlong chenhan, Xiebi liu yun zao
2. Qing emperor Qianlong清帝乾隆 (r. 1736–1795), 8 columns in small semi-cursive script, dated 1746; 2 seals:
Han Gan is well-known in history for his horse paintings. The flesh and bone structure of his horses are painted truthfully with a free hand. I have read Zhang Yanyuan's Record of Famous Painters [of Successive Dynasties, preface dated 847], which says that Han was serving in the Tang court of Emperor Minghuang [i.e., Xuanzong, r. 712–56] and that Han painted such famous horses as "Jade Flower" and "Night-shining White." I have longed to see these originals. But I don't even know the whereabouts of them. Recently, there are people trying to sell Huang Gongwang's (1269–1354) Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains and other paintings. The work attributed to Huang is a fake. But this handscroll of "Night-shining White" by Han is so lively and powerful that it makes one feel he is looking at a real horse. There is no doubt about its authenticity. So I commanded that it be acquired and I am happy to fulfill one of my wishes. This is indeed a unique event. Imperially inscribed three days before the full-moon of the middle winter month of the bingyin year in the Qianlong reign era (December 23, 1746). [Seals]: Qian, Long
3. Song emperor Gaozong? 宋高宗 (r. 1127–1162), 1 column in standard script, undated:
Han Gan's Night-shining White
4. Qing emperor Qianlong清帝乾隆 (r. 1736–1795), 4 columns in semi-cursive script, datable to 1747; 2 seals:
Who identified this celestial horse when it was mistakenly used to pull a cart? It must be someone looking out of his window. I am thinking of the dusty winds of northern China, Where grasses are short, the livestock fat.
This poem was composed this autumn for a horse painting by Qiu Ying (ca. 1495-1552). Having acquired this painting by Han Gan, I feel Han's brush techniques are even more powerful. The mounting paper in front of the painting is admirably ancient, so I write my poem on it. [Qianlong] inscribed again on the third day of the twelfth month [of the bingyin year] (Jan. 13, 1747). [Seals]: Ji xia yiqing, Qianlong chenhan
Night-shining White was highly praised in ancient times. Han Gan depicted this horse of the horses. Loyal to its master, The horse had braved bitter coldness in battlefields. When the horse is quiet, don't irritate it. A good horseman doesn't even put a saddle on it. In the grazing lands of northern Hebei, It needs an expert eye to distinguish a good horse.
Imperially inscribed in the spring of the dingchou year (1757), composed on the same rhyme scheme as the earlier poem. [Seals]: Bide, Lang run
6. Xiang Ziyin 向子諲 (1085–1152), 2 columns in standard script, dated 1138:
In the wuwu year of the Shaoxing reign era (1138) Xiang Ziyin, style-named Xianglin, joined the viewing of this at the Ningxiang Ge Studio.
7. Wu Yue 吳說 (fl. 1115–1156), 2 columns in standard script, undated:
Objects which are authenticated with the cipher of the Southern Tang [Emperor Li Yu, r. 961–75] are mostly genuine. [Signed] Wu Yue, the man from Wu.
8. Wei Su 危素 (1303–1372), 6 columns in standard script, undated; 1 seal:
Night-shining White was the favorite of [the Tang emperor] Minghuang [i.e., Xuanzong, r. 712–756]. Its bone structure shows that it is a good horse. Han Gan emphasized its spirit in his depiction, And showed how it carried [Xuanzong] on his flight to Shu. That famous painting is no longer extant; This present scroll bears some characters written by the Southern Tang [emperor, Li Yu, r. 961–75]. This fine scroll is lucky enough to be preserved. It will be treasured at an emperor's table side.
Han Gan's horse painting is of the divine class, so I have composed this poem for it. Recorded by Wei Su. [Seal]: Linchuan Wei Su
9. Jie Hong 揭汯 (1304–1373), 8 columns in standard script, undated:
Han Gan is unequalled in horse painting. He once painted [Emperor] Minghuang's Night-shining White. The horse is as white as a snowy cloud, And when the horse runs, its hooves are faster than a bird's wings. It cannot bear to be chained to a post; Its ambition is to run a thousand miles. When [the Emperor] toured Mount Li after banquets, His imperial court was surrounded by colorful banners. But this happiness did not last; The Emperor was forced to flee to Shu [Sichuan]. All these events are history, But viewing the painting makes me sentimental.
[Signed] Jie Hong of Yuzhang [in Jiangxi Province]
10. Zhang Jixian 張繼先 (unidentified), 5 columns in standard script, undated:
Recognizing a fine horse is like recognizing a fine jade. People today only depict horses skin deep; Master Han [Gan] captured the spirit of a horse. The horse is as majestic as a dragon. The image of a good horse is indeed difficult to paint, But in master Han's painting, the horse is true to life. I know what a good horse is after viewing this painting. Night-shining White is really a unique horse in history.
[Signed] Zhang Jixian, a foolish and inept man from Nanyang [in Henan province].
11. Mo Shi’an 莫士安 (late 14th–early 15th c.), 15 columns in standard script, undated; 5 seals:
Emperor] Xuanzong [r. 712-756] loved horses; He kept a huge number of them in his stable. Among the horses, Night-shining White was the best. Its body was snowy white and bore no dust. No other horse could compete with it in appearance. When its rider used the whip, it ran like lightening. The Emperor was happy to see this horse, But he forgot the difficulties of the country. Banners held by the imperial guards seemed brighter In the spring-time imperial garden Where [the Emperor's concubine] Yuhuan [i.e., Yang Guifei] picked crabapple blossoms. The Emperor and Yuhuan indulged themselves. [Xuanzong] treasured Night-shining White just as he doted on his concubines, So he ordered Cao Pa to paint a picture of the horse. Too much favor made the horse lonely. How could it stop galloping? Beside the throne the horse stood in attendance. It also carried the Emperor in his flight to Shu [Sichuan]. The Tang army was resentful of Yuhuan. She was executed in Mawei Po [Sichuan] against the Emperor's will. The roads of Shu were bad, so during his escape, The emperor seldom rode his horse. [Later], Han Gan painted another painting of the horse. The speed of the horse was elegantly indicated. The stars in the sky became less bright, And the beauty [i.e., Yang Guifei] had been dead for a long time. The spirit of the horse has not changed over the years. Captured in the painting, its grace has been transmitted to later generations.
[Signed] Mo Shi’an from Wuxing [in Zhejiang Province] [Seals]: Zhongzhu Suo, Yinqiao yingsheng, Guilin sheng, Mo shi Shi’an, Weigong
12. Chu Weishan 楚惟善 (active early 14th c.), 11 columns in standard script, dated 1320; 2 seals: I have once read Shaoling's [i.e., Du Fu, 712-770] poem on viewing a horse painting by Cao Pa. In the poem is a sentence saying that [Cao Pa had] painted emperor Xuanzong's [horse] Night-shining White. So the original version of this painting was by Cao Pa. Cao Pa and Han Gan were both famous in the Tang dynasty for their horse paintings but [Han] Gan was a student of Cao Pa, so it would not be too surprising if he had copied this painting from his mentor. Viewers need not doubt this. [Du Fu also said that Han] Gan was good at depicting the flesh rather than the bone structure of a horse. This argument is supported by the present scroll. Alas! The horse is just a horse, but because of the emperor's favor, it was praised in poems and depicted in paintings, and its fame has lasted for hundreds of years. Also for this reason, the painting has been greatly treasured. [If the emperor went out of his palace], the imperial insignia and chariots preceded him, his retinue followed him. On a good day they might travel 50 li [about 16 miles]. Sometimes [the emperor] rode his horse. Words fail to describe such events [which, nonetheless, are vividly depicted in paintings]. Five days prior to the Qingming Festival [the first day of the fourth lunar month] in the gengshen year of the Yanyou reign era (May 9, 1320), inscribed by Chu Weishan, Baochen, from Dongjun [Zhaocheng, Shandong Province]. [Seals]: Chu shi Baochen, Weishan
13. Gai Miao 蓋苗 (1290–1347), 6 columns in standard script, undated:
Celestial horses come from the west. How can they be restrained by mundane hands? [Han] Gan had a unique understanding of such horses, And so he painted a picture of one. Unrolling the scroll, I see the horse's spirit, As it neighs against west winds. The horse is not content to rest in its stable, But strains to race against the setting sun. Now I know the intention of the painter And remember a similar ambition described in the immortal Po's [Su Shi, 1037-1101] poem. A descendant of Xicun, Gai Miao
"[Cao Ba] once painted Emperor [Xuanzong's] favorite horse Night-shining White; For three days, the Dragon Pool had lightening over it." This couplet [from Du Fu's (712-770) poem] describes this painting, although Shaoling [Du Fu] also criticized [Han] Gan for depicting the flesh of a horse while neglecting its bone structure. While this is genuine trace, studies may be carried further. Touching the scroll, I feel sentimental and compose the following quatrain:
One neigh can silence ten thousand horses. This ancient paper vividly conveys his spirit. If people could find a seal of [the official] Wang Ya [died 835] on the scroll, They would have agreed this is a genuine painting handed down from the past.
Written by Zheng Guigao in the gengchen year of the Zhiyuan reign era (1340).
15. Zeng Lu 曾魯 (1319–1372), 5 columns in standard script, undated; 3 seals:
Han Gan is number one in painting horses, And he has depicted Night-shining White. This valuable painting has passed down for seven-hundred years. Formerly in the family collection of Jia [Jia Sidao, 1213-1275], [I have now] acquired it. This noble horse refuses to be bridled; A celestial steed, its hooves fly in the wind. It should cross layers of ice To enjoy the lush grasses and forests there.
[Signed] Zeng Lu from Nanfeng [in Jiangxi Province]. [Seals]: Zhuci Zhai, Qunyu Waishi, Zeng shi dezhi
16. Lin Tangchen 林唐臣 (late 14th–early 15th c.), 11 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 3 seals:
I have heard that Night-shining White was painted by Cao Ba. His student Han Gan also painted the same subject. Defying restraint, the horse wanted to prance and fly, While lightening flashed over the Dragon Pool. During the Kaiyuan [reign era of Emperor Xuanzong, 713-41] the empire was at peace. The steed was well-fed, but it neighed and yearned for a long trip. No one expected the flight to Jian Ge [in Sichuan]. The Emperor indulged himself in his palace. In the candlelight of the Chenxiang Pavilion, The spring snow luster of the horse was like a piece of silk. It is difficult to depict such a horse, But [Han] Gan was divinely inspired. And this painting has passed down for seven hundred years. A single sheet of paper reveals his superb techniques. Do not show this painting lightly to every visitor, Since vulgar eyes cannot appreciate its true value.
[Signed] Lin Tangchen from Boling [in Hebei Province]. [Seals]: Boling sheng, Meixue Zhai, Lin Tangchen Yuankai shi tushu yin
The celestial steed has a silky luster. Being tethered, it cannot gallop. Lifting its hooves, it neighs with a temper, And almost tears its reins apart. Don't you see the lush grasses in the prairie? Herds of horses are washed clean in a river. Their bodies do not bear a particle of dust, And they have never been restrained. Master Han [Gan] portrayed the true spirit of horses. He seemed to understand the feeling of the animal. Better to let the horse go as it likes. When I am old, I would also like to live in a place I like.
During the Kaiyuan reign era (713–41) there were good horses, but this did not help prevent [An Lushan's] rebellion in the Tianbao reign era (742–755). During the Shaoxing reign era (1131–62), men viewed this painting of a good horse, but this was of no use in resisting the chaos [of the Jurchen invasion] during the Jingkang reign era (1126–27). The painting has survived, but the cultural setting has changed. [Signed] A former jinshi degree holder, Zhang Shimeng [Seal]: Zijia yisi
19. Shen Deqian 沈德潛 (1673–1769), 13 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals: When General Cao [Ba] painted a picture of Night-shining White, Lightening flashed over the Dragon Pool for ten days. His student Han Gan also did a painting [of the same subject]; His brush technique rivals that of his tutor. Displaying braveness in fierce battles, The horse could not endure bridle or bit. Flesh underlain by bone--it possesses both grace and strength. The horse expresses its power in its neigh. Du Ling [Du Fu, 712–770] was playful when he made derogatory remarks. Master Su [Su Shi, 1036–1101] repudiated [Du Fu's comments] when he viewed Han's painting. The painting official [i.e., Han Gan] had keenly observed herds of horses. He surpassed Chen Hong [active ca. 725-756] because he understood horses. This scroll has been passed down for a thousand years. It is a treasured item in the Imperial Collection. Again returned to the Palace precincts, it is treasured like a one-foot-wide jade disk. There are depictions for each of the ten horses of the [Tang] imperial household. These celestial steeds came from the west. Dragons in disguise, These horses could gallop one thousand li a day. But if they were not depicted by Han Gan, Who else could depict their majestic poses? This expert painter painted good horses. Unrolling the scroll, I am amazed by the fine match.
Respectfully inscribed by the official Shen Deqian [Seals]: Yiduo hongyun, Chen Deqian yin
Jin Cheng 金城 (1878–1926) Gongbo pingsheng zhenshang 鞏伯平生真賞 Wuxing Jin Cheng jianding Song Yuan zhenji zhi yin 吳興金城鑑定宋元真蹟之印 Gongbei 拱北
Jin Kaifan 金開藩 (1895–1946) Jin Yinhu cang 金蔭湖藏 Jin Kaifan zhencang shuhua zhi yin 金開藩珍藏書畫之印
Li Xuanti李宣倜 (1888?–1961) Xuanti shending 宣倜審定 Li Shikan jianshang zhang 李釋戡鑑賞章 Ti 倜 Li Shikan 李釋堪 Li Xuanti yin 李宣倜印 Shikan ceng guan 釋龕曾觀 Shikan xinshang 釋戡心賞 Li Xuanti Shikan fu 李宣倜釋戡父 Wubian hua’an (twice) 無邊華盦 San shi 散釋 Ajia Jushi 阿迦居士
Unidentified seals Tang shi tushu (?) 湯氏圖書 (?) Henan Wen shi zhi bao 河南文氏之寳 Zhimei 芝眉 ? ? jianding (twice) □□鑑定
Illegible: 2 (black)
 Translations from Department records.
 Translations from Department records.
 The term “zaishengming” in the dating of this inscription refers to the third day of the month. Our gratitude to James C. Y. Watt for this reference. It appeared as early as in the chapter of “Wu Cheng” of Shangshu (The Classic of History), said to be compiled originally by Confucius (551-479 B.C.).
 The 30th-generation "Celestial Master" of the Zhengyi sect of Daoism was named Zhang Jixian (1092–1126) with the same Chinese characters. But he may not be the writer of this colophon because it appears after the one by Jie Hong (1304-1373) and, therefore, should post-date it.
 On Gui Xizhi’s identity, see Wu Guohao, “Wan Ming wenren de shufa shenghuo” (Ph.D. dissertation, Zhongguo Wenhua Daxue, Taipei, 2008), p. 265.
Sir Percival David , London (early 1930s–d.1964); his widow Lady David , later Mrs. Sheila Riddell, London (1964–1977; sold to MMA)
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