Portrait of Zhao Zhiqian

Wang Yuan Chinese

Not on view

Zhao Zhiqian, one of the most influential calligraphers and painters of the late Qing period, inscribed his portrait:

If the world praises me, I shall not accept such praise,Of those who try to destroy me, I shall not complain.Only the painter can capture my likeness. Hanging on the wall it will inspire people to call out, "It is Zhao, it is Zhao!" I neither walk nor sit but stand alone, and with a smile say nothing.

(Wen Fong, trans., Between Two Cultures: Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Chinese Paintings from the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art [New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001], p. 40)

Brush vitality, not optical fidelity, was the traditional criterion for lifelikeness in Chinese painting, except in portraiture. For this reason portrait painting was traditionally held in low regard in China. The praise that Zhao, a scholar-artist, voices for the lifelikeness of his portrait testifies to the growing respect in the nineteenth century for verisimilitude as a criterion applicable in all the fine arts.

Portrait of Zhao Zhiqian, Wang Yuan (Chinese, active ca. 1862–1908), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, China

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