Peach Blossoms and Peony

Zhao Zhiqian Chinese

Not on view

The preeminent literati artist of his day, Zhao Zhiqian applied his skills as a calligrapher and seal carver to the art of painting. His blending of contrasting compositional and graphic effects—positive forms and negative spaces, dry and wet ink, round and angular movements, heavy and light brushwork—derive from his calligraphic training; for this reason, Zhao's painting style, often referred to as "epigraphic," inaugurated a new direction for traditional Chinese artists.

The relationship of figure to ground, which is at the heart of seal carving, is seen here in Zhao's bold juxtaposition of the solidly colored peach blossoms and the monochrome peony, which are executed in the two traditional modes of flower painting: the "boneless" method of drawing in color without ink contours and the monochrome outline method. The pinwheel effect of Zhao's swirling cluster of blossoms is held in check by his compact inscription, which counterbalances the expansive leftward thrust of the peony. Zhao states that he is following the brush style of Wang Wu (1632–1690), but his mix of lush imagery and calligraphic techniques is quintessentially nineteenth century.

Peach Blossoms and Peony, Zhao Zhiqian (Chinese, 1829–1884), Folding fan mounted as an album leaf; ink and color on gold-flecked paper, China

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