Image: 22 1/2 x 313 3/4 in. (57.2 x 796.9 cm) Overall with mounting: 23 x 500 3/4 in. (58.4 x 1271.9 cm)
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986
Not on view
The 19th century interest in a dramatic figural style, cultivated by populist artists, celebrating heroes, sages and religious figures, was fueled in the 20th century by the heroics of a nation in crisis and the continuing democratization of culture.
Xu Cao was a leading conservative artist in Peking in the 30s and 40s. He took his inspiration for this handscroll from a painting of Drunken Immortals by the 15th century artist Du Jin, known for his large figures, sometimes over a foot high, wielding torches, thunderbolts and the like. Some 15th century critics thought these figures "strange indeed, lacking what is called elegant beauty." In the Peking of the 1930s, Xu Cao's zestful brushwork and taste for theatrics exemplified in the attitudes of his figures, were conservative in their references to the past, but wholly modern in the spirit of defiance and abandon they celebrated. Among the riches of China's artistic tradition are innumerable ghosts ready to take new life in the present.
Xu Cao, who served as vice-president of the Peking Painting Academy was charged as a rightist in 1957, disappeared and later died.
Signature: Xuanghongan Yansun Xu Cao painted at Wanhua Pavilion
Artist's inscription: I have seen a handscroll of figures by Du Shengzhu [Du Jin, 15th century] done with rapid, perfect brushstrokes. It is a treasure. I tried to follow his style. Clumsy or not, I don't care. I am being presumptuous.
Artist's seals: 1. Yansun (square, red characters) 2. Xu Cao (square, white characters)
Artist's colophon: This is old, my work of twenty years ago. When I saw a handscroll of Drunken Immortals done by Du Shengzhu on the street of galleries, I liked the rapid brushwork which is natural inspired. I did not want to leave it behind, so as soon as I came home I did this handscroll using Du Shengzhu's brush method. I would like to say it comes from my mind, rather than from the old master. Wang Xiangjing, one of my friends loved it, so I gave it to him. That was twenty years ago. Time flies by as if in a dream. Xiangzhai and I grew old in Peking. One day we met by chance and had a short talk. Both were please with our conversation. Later Xiangzhai came to my place and showed me this handscroll. Since he was going to give it to Lin Hoda, he asked me to write a colophon. Mr. Lin appreciated this handscroll so much and he really understands my work. Mr. Wang is not along in this world. Mid autumn of 1958; Yansun Xu Cao added this at Huangwa Dongmen.
Artist's seals: 1. Yansun (square, white characters) 2. Xu Cao (square, half-red characters, half-white)
Marking: Collectors' seals: Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (three)
Robert H. Ellsworth , New York (until 1986; donated to MMA)
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Style and Expressionism: Modern Chinese Painting," November 4, 1989–January 14, 1990.