Landscapes and trees, Gong Xian (Chinese, 1619–1689), Album of twelve leaves; ink on paper, China

清 龔賢 山水圖 冊 紙本
Landscapes and trees

Gong Xian (Chinese, 1619–1689)
Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
ca. 1679
Album of twelve leaves; ink on paper
Image (each leaf): 6 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. (15.9 x 19.1 cm)
Credit Line:
From the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection, Gift of Wen and Constance Fong, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Dillon, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
By the mid-1670s Gong Xian’s confidence as a painter had taught him to avoid an overly skillful or popular style. He wrote:

“Nowadays when people paint they do only what appeals to the common eye; I alone do not seek to please the present.”

In this album, both paintings and inscriptions attest to Gong’s striving after a spiritual communion with earlier masters while creating a pictorial vocabulary all his own. Departing from his densely textured, monumental landscape style of the 1660s, Gong moved toward a sparser manner in which each brushstroke is made to function calligraphically as well as descriptively, embodying both expressive and representational meaning. The album’s format—paintings accompanied by art-historical comments—reminds us that Gong Xian taught painting for a living.
#7625. Landscapes and Trees
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Inscription: Artist’s inscriptions and signatures[1]

Leaf A (2 columns in semi-cursive script):

Being cautious about making painting, one is considered good at painting.


Leaf B (6 columns in semi-cursive script):

In [painting] wild willows, I actually followed Li Changheng [Li Liufang, 1575–1629], but lately whenever I see Changheng’s willows I feel rather dissatisfied. Is it possible that I have surpassed him? I must keep looking for a painting of willows by Changheng and compare again.


Leaf C (5 columns in semi-cursive script):

Zheng Qian [active mid-8th century] of the Tang dynasty made a painting called Ancient Trees in which the brushwork was round and the spirit deep. Not one artist of the Five Dynasties era [907–960] could match him, much less painters of a later age. That is why I try to imitate it.

唐鄭虔有《老樹圖》,筆圓氣厚,非五代人可及, 況其後乎?因摹之。

Leaf D (5 columns in semi-cursive script):

With Mi [Fu, 1052–1107] calligraphy stressed self-expression, and so did painting, to an even greater extent, which no one else can surpass. Thereafter, Ni [Zan, 1306–1374], Huang [Gongwang, 1269–1354], and the likes arose, and the trend spread. How could it have been otherwise?


Leaf E (5 columns in semi-cursive script):

A monk asked his old master why mountains, rivers, and the great earth suddenly emerged. He answered, “Why do mountains, rivers, and the great earth suddenly emerge?" A painter who can understand this will never be lacking in mountains and valleys.


Leaf F (5 columns in semi-cursive script):

Nowadays when people paint they only do what appeals to the common eye; I alone do not seek to please the present. I note this with a laugh.


Leaf G (6 columns in semi-cursive script):

Landscape painting flourished during the Northern Song dynasty [960–1126] and, continuing throughout the Southern Song [1126–1279], it remained strong during the Yuan [1279–1368]. The painting of Yunlin [Ni Zan, 1306–1374] alone has a hoary substantiality. Later imitators have never understood this. Since they have never seen authentic works by the ancients, how can they imitate them?


Leaf H (5 columns in semi-cursive script):

Less is better than more; this is the advanced stage of a painter. Likewise, the [short] five-character-line quatrain is more difficult than any other form of poetry.


Leaf I (3 columns in semi-cursive script):

Being clever is not as good as being dull. The uses of cleverness can be grasped at a glance, while apparent dullness may embody limitless flavor.


Leaf J (6 columns in semi-cursive script):

Nowadays everyone talks about hills and valleys, one out of a hundred may speak of brush and ink, and one out of ten thousand may know about “breath-movement.” Breath-movement is not simply a matter of using ink wash; the density or sparseness of ink wash is still a matter of brush and ink.


Leaf K (6 columns in semi-cursive script):

In painting one need not follow any ancient masters. Among recent artists the brush and ink of Dong Huating [Dong Qichang, 1555–1636] is lofty and untrammeled and is quite likeable. Finishing this work, it looks like Longyou's [Yang Wencong, 1597–1645]. This is because in our youth Longyou and I both followed Huating.


Leaf L (5 columns in semi-cursive script):

Among the abbreviated styles of painting, the Northern School is the first to be avoided. Today, if a collector has even one Northern School scroll in his collection, then all his other paintings are diminished. This must be recognized. Most importantly, there is no Northern School painter in the greater Wu area.


Artist’s seals
Banqian 半千 [Leaf A]
Gong Xian zhi yin 龔賢之印 [Leaf AA]
Banqian 半千 [Leaf B]
Xian 賢 [Leaf BB]
Da buyi 大布衣 [Leaf C]
Banqian 半千 [Leaf CC]
Anjie 安節 [Leaf D]
Gong Xian yin 龔賢印 [Leaf DD]
Xian 賢 [Leaf E]
Qixian 豈賢 [Leaf EE]
Penghao ren 蓬蒿人 [Leaf F]
Gong Xian 龔賢 [Leaf FF]
Yeyi 野遺 [Leaf G]
Banqian 半千 [Leaf GG]
Yeyi 野遺 [Leaf H]
Gong Banqian 龔半千 [Leaf HH]
Yeyi 野遺 [Leaf I]
Banshan yeren 半山野人 [Leaf II]
Chaizhang 柴丈 [Leaf J]
Chen Xian 臣賢 [Leaf JJ]
Chaizhang 柴丈 [Leaf K]
Zhongshan yelao 鐘山野老 [Leaf KK]
Penghao ren 蓬蒿人 [Leaf L]
Yeyi 野遺 [Leaf LL]

Label strip
Lin Xiongguang 林熊光 (1898–1971), 1 column in standard script, undated; 1 seal (on dust cover):

龔半千山水精品册 [印]: 熊光

Collector’s seals

Lin Xiongguang 林熊光 (1898–1971)
Lang An baoai 朗庵寶愛
Baosong Shi miji yin 寶宋室秘笈印
Lang An suocang 朗庵所藏

[1] Translations from Maxwell K. Hearn’s entry in Wai-kam Ho, ed., The Century of Tung Chʻi-chʻang 1555–1636. Kansas City, Mo.: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1992, 2 vols. Vol. 2, cat. no. 133, pp. 144-–5. Modified.
Mr. and Mrs. Fong Wen C. , Princeton, NJ (until 1979; donated to MMA)
Kansas City. William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts. "Kung Hsien, Theorist and Technician in Painting: A Loan Exhibition," May 1, 1969–July 15, 1969.

Kansas City. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. "The Century of Dong Qichang," April 19, 1992–June 14, 1992.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Century of Dong Qichang," July 6, 1992–September 20, 1992.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Century of Dong Qichang," October 15, 1992–January 3, 1993.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30, 1998–January 3, 1999.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "When the Manchus Ruled China: Painting under the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)," February 2, 2002–August 18, 2002.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Dreams of Yellow Mountain: Landscapes of Survival in Seventeenth-Century China," September 13, 2003–February 22, 2004.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings," March 1, 2008–August 10, 2008.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Art of the Chinese Album," September 6, 2014–March 29, 2015.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Traditions of China," August 26, 2017–January 6, 2019.