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Qiu Ying

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Qiu Ying
Ming Dynasty Painter
Chinese, (1494–c. 1552) Ch'iu Ying zi: Shifu hao: Shizhou
Chinese painter. Chinese historical writings refer to Qiu as one of the Four Great Masters of the Ming period (1368–1644), along with Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin. He was born into a humble family and studied painting with Zhou Chen in Suzhou, centre of the Wu school of painting, but lived and worked on the fringes of scholarly Suzhou society. His livelihood depended solely upon his skill in satisfying the tastes and demands of his patrons. More fortunate than other commercial artists, he had three art collectors as patrons, with each of whom he stayed for several years. One was Chen Guan from Suzhou. The other two were Zhou Fenglai (1523–55), from nearby Kunshan, and the well-known wealthy collector Xiang Yuanbian, whose home was in Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province.

To satisfy his patrons, Qiu depicted a broad range of subjects in a wide variety of styles. Some of his pictures were commemorative, while others were used as birthday or presentation gifts. His paintings emphasize visual beauty, often including detailed luxuriant settings and rich colours, reflecting the deep-rooted sensuousness that is a major aspect of Ming taste. He also made exact copies of ancient masterpieces, and this and his talent for incorporating older motifs into his own work have made it difficult to establish his oeuvre, a problem compounded by a lack of extant dated works and a plethora of imitations and forgeries.

Although many landscape paintings assigned to him today are rendered in opaque bright blue and green pigments, many of these are problematic as being from his hand. More easily acceptable are his works in the softer version of this style, as was popular among other 16th-century artists, in which the colours are muted and translucent, as in his illustration (handscroll, ink and colours on paper; Shenyang, Liaoning Provencial Museum) of the prose poem "Chibi fu" (‘Ode on the red cliff’) by Su Shi or "Towers and Pavilions in Immortals Mountains" (hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper; Taipei, North Palace Museum).

Qiu’s reliance upon and abilities to recreate the qualities of Song dynasty paintings is demonstrated in "Awaiting the Ferry by an Autumn River" (hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk; Taipei, North Palace Museum) where the entire central portion is derived from "Autumn Landscape," once attributed to the Southern Song artist Liu Sungnian, and is perhaps an early close copy of his work (album leaf, ink and light colours on silk; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Art). Many Song artists strove for accurate depiction of landscape scenes with great fidelity to natural nuances and Qiu’s picture has been praised for its ‘surprisingly illusionistic rendering of late-afternoon sunlight and shade’. Six remarkable paintings associated with Qiu, exceptional in their arresting and sensitive descriptions of times of day and for unusual treatments of the sky, are gathered in the album "Landscapes after Song and Yuan Masters" (ink and colours on silk; Taipei, North Palace Museum). The most stunning picture in the album depicts a rustic environment at dusk. The hues of the landscape are muted, those of the sky darkening; the brightest spot is near the centre where two gentlemen sit in conversation in a villa, its lighted buildings and compound aglow in the subdued surroundings. Five leaves in this album originally had a line of characters scribbled along their right edge, however the pages have been trimmed so that little of the text remains. The legible portions do not seem to be poetry; they may simply be descriptive notes to be followed by the artist. If so, this is a unique revelation of how an artist may have worked, jotting down as reminders the motifs in a painting he saw and wanted to replicate at a later time or simply noting image ideas for a painting.

In other landscapes, such as "A Lady in a Lakeside Pavilion" (hanging scroll, ink and light colours on paper; Boston, Massachuetts, Museum of Fine Art), Qiu blends the angular rhythms and rhomboidal rock formations as well as the asymetrical composition, all derived from those of his teacher Zhou Chen, and recalling the art of Li Tang, the influential artist of the Northern Song period (960–1127) with the dry ink and sparse brushwork reflecting Yuan dynasty preferences.

Qiu was a conscientious observer of reality who scrupulously transferred what he saw into his pictures. A superb draftsman, he excelled in faultlessly depicting the human figure, architecture, objects and nature accurately and convincingly, even, sometimes, in miniature. His buildings, pavilions and terraces are always completely rendered as completely comprehensible architecture defining spaces designed for living, never merely as structure. Qiu’s profound sensitivity to nature far exceeded that of other artists. His plants always grow out of the soil, branch and leaf are in correct relation to each other, grass blades cluster properly. He rarely used pepper dots or other generic ‘foliage’ conventions when he could, instead, depict rushes, or reeds, or grasses, or lotus leaves.

Some of Qiu’s figure paintings, such as "Soliciting a Donkey for Mr Zhu" (handscroll, ink on paper; New York, Metropolitan), imitate the plain-line drawing (baimiao) of the 11th-century artist Li Gonglin. Qiu’s male faces, squarish in shape with the eyes sharply askew, were influenced by his older contemporary working in Nanjing, Wu Wei. His female figures are more distinctly his own, as in "Spring Morning in the Han Palace" (handscroll, ink and colours on silk; Taipei, North Palace Museum), in which oval feminine faces are defined with an even, regular contour. The eyes are usually askew, a convention related to the fact that the face is drawn from a three-quarter view, with some of it always visible beyond the corner of the far eye. Eyebrows are thin, short arcs, often pointed at the centre. Lips are rarely completely indicated and the corners are pulled sharply upward into a V-shaped smile. A small dot may accentuate the lower lip. In his treatment of clothing Qiu’s brushwork is generally controlled and carefully descriptive of folds or creases. However, in "Playing Music under the Banana Trees" (hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper; Taipei, North Palace Museum) the figures are more freely drawn, perhaps representing the influence of contemporary Nanjing artists who employed more flamboyant, erratic brushwork.

Qiu sometimes manipulated imagery to communicate abstract scholarly ideas. The "Garden of Self-enjoyment" (handscroll, ink and colours on paper; Cleveland, Ohio, Museum of Art) depicts the halls and pavilions of the garden of the 11th-century scholar-statesman Sima Guang. An abrupt shift of viewpoint just before the final pavilion, the "Viewing the Mountain Terrace", forces the viewer to focus beyond the garden to high hills and flowing streams. By this means Qiu emphasized visually the meaning given by Sima Guang to his garden in his own writings: a Confucian interpretation conveyed metaphorically through allusions to climbing heights and reminiscing about history and the past.

Many works by Qiu contain mildly eroticized motifs derived from poetic conventions. In the Chinese symbolic vocabulary, a woman standing on the balcony of a second-story of a house implies she is gazing in the direction her lord took when they parted. Titillating thoughts in the mind of the viewer might be evoked by "A Lady in a Lakeside Pavilion" where a lovely woman stands on a balcony and gazes out over the lake. Her hands are in her sleeves, and one hand is raised to her chin in a standard gesture of a love-lorn woman. In the Chinese poetic lexicon, the spring wind is ‘an impetuous lover’. In "A Lady in a Lakeside Pavilion", the spring breeze, which stirs amorous thoughts, is suggested by the agitated, fluttering fringe. In 'A Beauty in Spring Thoughts" (handscroll, ink and light colours on paper; Taipei, North Palace Museum), the dainty woman toys with her girdle as a prelude to lovemaking.

Although Qiu had many followers, including his son, daughter and a son-in-law, as well as many imitators, none attained his stature, and he has no real successors.

-Ellen Johnston Laing


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