1. Magical Impressions
Known as "the chief of beasts", tiger has been worshiped by our ancestors and appeared on different engravings. It is also a theme for modern seal-carvers.
Bashu bronze seal with a tiger knob Full viewArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Bashu Bronze Seal with a Tiger Knob│4th–3rd century BCE
Overwhelmingly popular as the object of worship in ancient Bashu culture, tiger motifs were extensively featured in artifacts such as weapons and musical instruments. This exquisite tiger seal, however, is a rare piece.
The bronze seal is ornated with a lively tiger and intricate designs. Its refinement suggests a high-ranking owner, possibly a tribe leader.
Bashu bronze seal with a tiger knob SurfaceArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The meanings of bronze seal signs are yet to be deciphered.
Hollow Brick with Auspicious Symbols (Western Han Period)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Hollow Brick with Auspicious Symbols│Western Han Period
On this hollow pictorial burial brick from the Western Han Dynasty commonly found in Western Henan Province, one could find a set of impressed auspicious symbols, among which is a tiger held by a man.
Tiger was often seen on Han dynasty burial bricks as it was believed at that time that tigers can consume and ward off evil spirits at the gates of the underworld.
Seal Impression Album of Ting Yin-yung’s Works (Selected Pages) (Unkown)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Seal Impression Album │Ting Yin-yung (1902–1978)
Born in the Year of the Tiger, Ting Yin-yung carved a variety of seals representing the feline.
His works draw inspirations from various sources. For example, the slender tiger pattern on the top right might have taken the form from jade tigers.
There is also an amicable looking tiger depicted with cartoonish bold outline on the bottom left corner.
The same tiger face was done with different techniques in this set of seal impression. From left to right: relief, intaglio and a combination of both.
This seal reads “The Seal of the Tiger”. The beast with a round eye in a huge mouth shares resemblance with a pair of animal-shaped gold pendants unearthed from the ancient Dian tombs in Li Jia Shan, Yunnan. Ting’s carving might be based on similar ancient art.
2. Tamed by Deities
Often depicted alongside deities and Luohan monks, tigers served as witnesses to the magical powers of immortals.
Copy of Tang Yin’s Portrait of Wu Cailuan (Dated 1797) by Fang Xun (1736–1799)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Copy of Tang Yin’s Portrait of Wu Cailuan│Fang Xun (1736–1799)
A Tang dynasty tale has it that the scholar Wen Xiao met and married the fairy Wu Cailuan, who was ripped of her immortality for leaking an ethereal secret. It ends with them both achieving immortality ten years after and disappeared into the mountains, each riding a tiger.
But before the happy ending, it was said that Wen Xiao was poor and Cailuan had to copy the book Tang Yun (The Rhymes of Tang) for a living.
The couple later moved to a village in Jiangxi, where they “taught total dozens of children”.
In this painting, Cailuan is holding a book with a child and a tiger at her sides, which matches the descriptions in the tale.
Tiger-teasing Monk (Dated circa 1874) by Ju Lian (1828–1904)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Tiger-teasing Monk | Ju Lian (1828–1904 )
The painter's inscription on this fan has a satirical undertone, which ridiculed hypocrites in the society by portraying wayward monks.
The unkempt monk teasing a tiger as if it is a cat demonstrates the unity of eccentricity and divinity.
The Sixth Zen Patriarch in Contemplation (Dated 1968) by Ting Yin–yung (1902–1978)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Sixth Zen Patriarch in Contemplation│Ting Yin-yung (1902–1978)
Monk sleeping with tiger is a popular motif in Zen Buddhist art.
The scene brings out the unification of man and beast; reality and fantasy; life is an illusion in the heart of Zen Buddhism.
3. Mighty Roar
From late Qing dynasty to early Republican China, painters returning from Japan brought in a different tiger painting style, which emphasizes the ferocity of the feline.
The Roar of the Night (Dated 1916) by Gao Qifeng (1889–1933)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Roar of the Night│ Gao Qifeng (1889–1933)
With their early training under the Geshan school of painting, the Gao brothers at first specialized in garden creatures such as birds and insects. They turned to larger beasts such as tigers, hawks, and primates upon influence from Japanese painting of their time.
In these paintings, the beasts’ ferocity was highlighted against backgrounds of snowy scenes or moonlit nights.
Gao Qifeng adopted a more naturalistic approach in the depiction of tigers when compared with his elder brother Gao Jianfu.
The Sickly Tiger (Dated 1935) by Gao Jianfu (1897–1951)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Sickly Tiger│Gao Jianfu (1879–1951)
This is a well-known piece by the Lingnan School master Gao Jianfu painted in the 1930s.
It has at least two versions. The present piece is a later version, which is furnished with a poetic inscription by the painter.
Compared to the earlier version, a stiff tail was added on the left side.
and the tiger has a more pained expression.
By the time he painted the work, Gao had gone through a series of hardship. The time-worn but majestic beast might be a reflection of his own state of mind.
The Lurking Tiger (Dated circa 1929) by Zhang Shanzi (1882–1940)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Lurking Tiger│Zhang Shanzi (1882–1940)
Zhang Shanzi, elder brother of Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien), is a well-known tiger painter. In the 1930s, Zhang Shanzi once kept a tiger cub as a pet in a classical garden in Suzhou.
The composition of a lurking tiger on a cliff amplifies the tension of the attack.
In 1929, the Zhang brothers visited Langxi of Anhui Province together. This might be painted at that time and Zhang Daqian inscribed on it on the next year.
Tiger (A leaf from the album Animals) (Dated 1978) by Liu Jiyou (1918–1983)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Tiger │ Liu Jiyou (1918–1983)
The emphasis of ferocity in tiger painting during Republican period has influenced later depiction of the beast, which can be exemplified by this work by Liu Jiyou (1918–1983), son of Liu Kuiling (1885–1967).
Tiger (Undated) by Liu Jiyou (1918–1983)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Tiger│Liu Jiyou (1918–1983)
Inspired by perspective in western painting and anatomy, animal paintings become more naturalistic. Combined with traditional brushwork and landscape, the work demonstrates a fusion of Chinese and Western styles.
4. Cartoonish Charm
Tigers are sometimes depicted adorably in a cartoonish cat-like manner.
Cat or Tiger (Dated 1969) by Ting Yin–yung (1902–1978)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Cat or Tiger│Ting Yin-yung (1902–1978)
Ting's portrayal of the predator retained the expressiveness and comical distortion of the animal paintings of Bada Shanren, which deviates from the approach of the Lingnan School.
You can "guess whether it's a cat or a tiger", just as written in the inscription.
Tiger (A leaf from the album Landscapes and More) (Dated 1849) by Su Renshan (1814– c.1850)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Tiger│Su Renshan (1814–c.1850)
The Qing dynasty Guangdong painter Su Renshan was known for his eccentricity. The carefree expression of the feline is a realization of Su’s colorful character.
Reclining Tiger (A leaf from the album Animals) (Dated 1886) by Ju Lian (1828–1904)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Reclining Tiger│Ju Lian (1828–1904)
The reclining tiger is painted with the mogu (lit. boneless) technique with a few simple but animated strokes.
A Feline Family (Dated 1986) by Cheng Kar-chun (1918–2000)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
A Feline Family│Cheng Kar-chun (1918-2000)
The comical exaggeration of the tiger and the cat creates stark contrast between large and small, striped and plain.
The two's staring eyes and the daring touch of the cat bring out an intriguing dynamic between the big and small felines.
The content is developed based on the exhibition Celebrating the Year of the Tiger by Dr. Sam Tong, Research Associate of the Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Click Here for the Description of the Exhibition