Friday, January 13, 2006

Grieve-Not Lake

Grieve-Not Lake is the title of an undated handscroll painting by Wu Hong (c1615-after 1683) in the Royal Academy’s Three Emperors exhibition (for some discussion of other landscape exhibits, see also Mount Pan and Jade Mountain). In the centre of the image is a grey lake, surrounded by reeds and rustic buildings. Some of these, particularly in the foreground, are in a state of disrepair. Two scholars contemplate the lake, sitting in a temple that has clearly seen better days. There is a tiny image of the painting on the Orientations site and, as it says there, Wu Hong’s melancholy landscape refers to the Manchu conquest of China – the artist remained loyal to the Ming and preferred to work as an independent artist rather than serve the new dynasty. Alfreda Murck links this painting to Kong Shangren’s play The Peach Blossom Fan which opens with a reference to the lake and dramatises the fall of the Ming Dynasty. She makes the interesting point that whilst ruins had always been a subject for poetry, Wu Hong was one of the first Chinese painters to depict them extensively in his work.

Wu Hong was one of the Eight Masters of the Nanjing School. The most famous painter in Nanjing at the time was Gong Xian (Kung Hsien) (1618-89). He too was a Ming patriot who generally tried to avoid depicting the sky (a symbol of imperial authority) and whose Thousand Peaks and Myriad Ravines (not in the exhibition) suggests a clouded, dark, desolate future under the Manchu. However, his later work is lighter in tone, reflecting the more peaceful, prosperous times under the first of the Three Emperors.

No comments: