Born in an established family, the painter Li Gonglin in Northern Song Dynasty was intelligent and versatile, having contacts with many famous scholars such as Su Shi, Huang Tingjian and Mi Fu. With profound culture cultivation and elegant social contacts, Li Gonglin fully met the standards of literati painters, but his superb painting skills and high modeling ability made him different from other "amateur" literati, and he was known as formal literati painter.
Li Gonglin was a master in comprehensive painting techniques, proficient in painting characters, horses, flowers and birds, landscape, and was especially good at horse painting. He was even comparable to painters in Tang dynasty which was the peak period of horse painting. "Five Horses" was the masterpiece of Li Gonglin’s horse paintings. The whole volume is divided into five sections, with each section depicting one tributary rare horse by western regions, and each horse was led by a horseman. Li Gonglin only used simple single lines to draw the horses which are full of spirit, energy and also with distinct personality. Although the horses are not running, we can still feel their blooming vitality. In each section of "Five Horses", there are inscription by Huang Tingjian, famous contemporaneous poet and writer, recording information of horse name, source, body length and so on. The inscription and Li Gonglin’s magnificent painting both embody the way of exploring natural rules by people of Song Dynasty.


  • Title: Five Horses
  • Creator: Li Gonglin
  • Date: 1106
  • Provenance: private collection in Japan
  • Physical format: painting, 204.5h x 26.9w cm
  • Medium: ink on paper
  • Dynastic period: Song Dynasty
  • Artist's birth and death date: 1049-1106

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