Famous Women

Paintings by Gai Qi Chinese
Inscriptions by Cao Zhenxiu Chinese

Not on view

In 1799, the scholar Cao Zhenxiu wrote a cycle of sixteen poems about famous women of history and legend. Not content with the usual heroines—chaste widows and filial daughters—Cao selected women of more diverse talents, foregrounding poets, calligraphers, and warriors and arguing for an expanded notion of female virtue. She then commissioned the young virtuoso painter Gai Qi to illustrate her poems. Although some of the scenes take place indoors, several of them feature garden settings, including the ones you see here. Light in ink tone, Gai’s images display a seemingly endless variety of brushwork, from dry, rounded strokes to evoke the rough texture of rocks to pinpoint black lines to describe sharp grasses.

Famous Women, Paintings by Gai Qi (Chinese, 1773–1828), Album of sixteen leaves; ink on paper, China

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