The Immortal Liu Haichan Playing with a Toad

Li Keran Chinese

Not on view

Born to impoverished and illiterate parents in Jiangsu Province, Li Keran began studying painting at the age of thirteen. In the 1920s he studied both traditional and Western-style art with Liu Haisu (1896–1994) and Lin Fengmian (1900–1991). In 1946 Xu Beihong (1895–1953) recommended Li for a post at the Beijing National Art College, where faculty members Qi Baishi (1864–1957) and Huang Binhong (1865–1955) encouraged him to pursue traditional painting.

This work is an early example of Li's interest in ancient Chinese figure painting. It depicts Liu Haichan ("Liu Sea Toad"), a minister during the tumultuous Five Dynasties era (906–960) who renounced his titles and became a recluse. By Ming times Liu was venerated as an immortal and was always depicted unkempt, unshod, and carrying a three-legged toad.

This bold image reflects Li's familiarity with popular New Year's prints and woodblock images as well as with the uninhibited brushwork and spontaneous inkwash style of Liang Kai (act. ca. 1200–1250), a member of the Song Imperial Painting Academy who relinquished his position to become a Chan (Zen) Buddhist monk.

The Immortal Liu Haichan Playing with a Toad, Li Keran (Chinese, 1907–1989), Hanging scroll; ink and color on Korean paper, China

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