One of the so-called Yangzhou Eccentrics (a group of painters who lived in Yangzhou and were known for their unorthodox art and lifestyle), Gao Fenghan depicts China’s two most loved flowers in full bloom—the “cold beauty,” or plum blossom, in the first section, and the “king of flowers,” or peony, in the second section. Painted in 1741, the year when Gao decided to leave the south and return home to Shandong province in eastern China, this work was likely a token of farewell. His casual brushwork may indicate his mental and physical struggle at the time. After having crippled his right hand in 1737, Gao used his left hand to paint and achieved a crudeness and eccentric style unattainable before.

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  • Title: Plum Blossoms and Peonies
  • Creator: Gao Fenghan (Chinese, 1683-1749)
  • Date Created: 1741
  • Physical Dimensions: Image: 26 x 96.2 cm (10 1/4 x 37 7/8 in.); Overall: 28.9 x 534.7 cm (11 3/8 x 210 1/2 in.)
  • Provenance: (James J. Freeman, Kyoto, Japan, sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: CC0
  • External Link: https://clevelandart.org/art/1980.13
  • Medium: handscroll, ink on paper
  • Original Title: 梅花牡丹圖
  • Inscriptions: Artist's 2 inscriptions and 9 seals (the painting of Peonies with the artist's colophon and the colophon by Hou Chia-fan are on a single sheet of paper). Artist's inscription and 2 seals (Plum Blossoms): [seal] Ts'ai-yün. After finishing writing my colophon, I unrolled the painting to take another look, and it now seems that the composition here should have moved to the later part of the scroll. If that is the case, then the "Cool Beauty" [prunus] of the Solitary Hill is after all unable to take precedence over the "King of Flowers" [peony]. A laugh. Lao-fou inscribed. [seal] Feng-han. Artist's colophon (Plum Blossoms): [3 seals] Tun; Yen-yün-kung-yang, Hou-shang-tso-sheng. A few days after I painted this scroll for Shui- hsien [Yüeh Meng-yüan], the plum blossoms were in full bloom at his residence. He invited me over to enjoy them together for a long while, and I composed two additional poems and wrote them down here for his criticism. [Poems on the colophon are not translated.] First month, twenty-first day, your junior, Kao Feng-han of Nan-fou drafted this with the left hand. [seal] Feng-han. Artist's inscription and 4 seals (Peonies): Brushed with the left hand in the hsin-yu year [1741]. [seal] Yu-hsi. [3 seals at end of painting] Hou-shang-tso-sheng; Yen-yün-kung-yang; Shih-tsao-wu. Artist's colophon and seal (Peonies): The imperial concubine from the Yang family loved to dress in red, And from the emperor won the title of Hai-t'ang. But ever since she became the new dream of the moon palace, She changed into rainbow colors, while learning to dance. After I wrote the poem on Looking for Plum Blossoms in the Teng-wei Mountains, I attached to it a few branches of prunus, some bamboo tips and a piece of rock, with a scattering of green [moss] here and there to fill up the scroll. Unexpectedly, my playful fascination [with these subjects] was still not quite satisfied, so I made up these amorous ideas and romantic images [of the peony], to follow the footsteps of the fair lady of the Ku-hsieh Mountain [prunus]. Furthermore, I picked out one poem to be my vanguard. Perhaps such luminosity of wealth and power will be enough to overwhelm the poor fellows, and [they] will not mind the comparatively short length [of paper] assigned to it. Amusingly inscribed. Please correct me again. To Shui-hsien, my learned senior, your junior Han inscribed again. [seal] Tso-hua [left-handed painting]. 1 additional colophon and 5 additional seals: 1 colophon, dated 1742, and 3 seals of Hou Chia-fan (act. ca. 1742); 1 seal of P'u Ch'üan (20th c.?); 1 seal of Li family (dates unknown).
  • Department: Chinese Art
  • Culture: China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • Credit Line: Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund
  • Collection: ASIAN - Handscroll
  • Accession Number: 1980.13

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