Huang Binhong (Chinese, 1864 - 1955)
Landscape at Madangshan, ca. 1940s
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper
39 x 13 1/4 in. (99.1 x 33.7 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1994
This scroll's combination of a traditional subject with a more contemporary style perfectly symbolizes Huang Binhong's place on the cusp between classical and modern Chinese painting.
The cluster of rustic buildings beside a river in a mountainous landscape depicted in this scroll is one of the most traditional subjects in Chinese painting, with a history stretching back almost a thousand years. Yet the style of the painting--with its roughly sketched buildings, dense layers of ink and colors, and intimations of light and shadow--is thoroughly twentieth century. At a time when many Chinese artists were experimenting with folk art forms or Western painting styles, Huang Binhong continued to work with classical Chinese subjects and media, turning them in innovative directions. He is now recognized as having played a key role in the survival and vitality of traditional Chinese painting in the modern era.1
This painting is not dated, but the style is consistent with Huang's mature period. Its inscription, a quatrain in the upper right corner, helps place this painting within his oeuvre:2 As the sun sets on the clamorous river, we ride the strong current,
Mist gathers around the chilly cliffs, the mountains of Chu turn autumnal.
Turning my head back toward Haidong, distant across the waves,
I see only sand gulls sending off our boat.
Boarding a boat at Madangshan, Binhong Madangshan is a mountain in Jiangxi province overlooking the Yangzi River, and Huang was probably inspired to paint this image after one of his numerous trips around China in the late 1930s and '40s. Although the painting was never intended to be a realistic depiction of Madangshan, its association with a specific place is important for reinforcing the sense of Chinese tradition that imbues this painting. At a historical moment when the survival of China as a nation was in some doubt, Huang's travel-inspired paintings reconfirmed the vital power of the Chinese landscape to motivate the hearts and minds of its people.
Huang was not an overtly political artist, but the sense of cultural and national pride embodied by his paintings may be one reason why they continued to be celebrated even after the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Huang Binhong was born in Zhejiang province to an artistic family. His grandfather, Huang Fengliu (dates unknown), had been an artist of some repute, and Huang was placed under the tutelage of a local painter, Chen Chunfan (dates unknown), as a young boy. In adulthood, Huang was involved with the arts through many channels. In addition to being a prolific painter, Huang taught at art schools in Beijing and Shanghai and contributed his vast scholarship to many art books and journals, including the Meishu congshu compendium. His intellectual interests in art history were an important source of inspiration for his own paintings, as were his extensive travels around the different regions of China. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Huang was appointed as Vice-Chairman of the East China Branch of the Chinese Artist's Association, and in 1953 he was awarded the title "Outstanding Painter of the Chinese People." Huang died in 1955 in Hangzhou, where a museum has been built to honor his accomplishments.
Li Chu-tsing. Trends in Modern Chinese Painting. Ascona, 1979, pp. 58-82.
Yu Jianhua. Zhongguo meishujia renming cidian. Shanghai, 1981, p. 1165.
Previously the property of the China Arts and Crafts Company, Beijing
With L. J. Wender, Fine Chinese Paintings, New York, from whom purchased in 1994
This hanging scroll is in excellent condition and appears to have been recently remonted prior to acquisition by the museum. Black ink and colors were applied with a brush onto medium-weight handmade paper. There are two seals of the artist in upper right and lower left corners.
1. For a discussion of Huang Binhong and his place in twentieth-century Chinese painting, see Li Chu-tsing, Trends in Modern Chinese Painting (Ascona, 1979), pp. 58-82.
2. Translated by C. Mason.