Sailing in Autumn

Xugu (Zhu Huairen) Chinese

Not on view

Zhu Xubai joined the imperial army in 1851, but, finding that his sympathies lay with the Taiping rebels, he deserted and became a monk, taking the name Xu Gu. Alienated and without roots, he traveled between Yangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai selling his paintings. He had been trained in a portrait shop to paint the realistic ancestor images much in demand, but the majority of his paintings give little evidence of traditional training. His creativity lies in devising a light coloristic means of rendering the impression of things as they are seen.

In the 1870s and 1880s figure painting in Shanghai was dominated by Ren Yi (1840–1896) and landscape painting, by Xu Gu. Xu's fresh artistic vision offered realistic scenery rather than idealized landscapes. In this riverside scene, his sketchy impression of lowland grasses and shrubs is novel in its use of irregular, loosely connected strokes rather than traditional formulas for constructing organic units. In the foreground the ink is dry, in the distance wet and blurred, in order to render the effects of intervening mist. Xu attempted to paint what he saw, a goal independently pursued by the European Impressionists. His radical departure from traditional intent and technique gives his pictures a vivid immediacy.

Sailing in Autumn, Xugu (Zhu Huairen) (Chinese, 1823–1896), Album leaf; ink and color on paper, China

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