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Attributed to Lady Kuan Fu-jen, Chinese
Rocks and Bamboo, n. d.
Ink on Silk
34 11/16 in. x 12 7/8 in. (88.11 cm x 32.7 cm)


Object Type: Painting
Technique: Brushwork
Period: Ming Dynasty (China, 1368-1644)
Credit Line: Gift of Johan Wilhelm Norman Munthe
Accession Number: XX.1.61


Commentary
Beyond the twisted forms of a Lake Tai rock is a delicately drawn stand of bamboo. The variations in ink tone suggest an evening mist is settling into the garden. Lines of poetry inscribed one side of the painting reads:
"Ten thousand volumes of books piling up on the ivory bed;
Forgetting my body and the world;
Caring only for the bamboo planted around the house;
It is nice to open the windows and enjoy the evening coolness.”

The painting is in the style of the noted Yuan Dynasty woman artist Guan Daosheng (1262-1319) who was famous for her bamboo paintings. Although a dubious signature and seals of Guan have been added to the inscription, this painting is probably a Ming Dynasty copy of her work, or an image that emulates the distinctive brushwork of China’s most famous woman painter.

As Katherine Ryor, Professor of Asian arts at Carleton College and specialist in Ming paintings, noted in 2014, “While the work is not an authentic work by her , it represents an excellent example of what was perceived as a feminine style of bamboo painting in China and probably dates somewhere between the 16th and 18th centuries. This period also coincides with a time when increasingly more women studied and maintained reputations as painters. Scripps has quite a few Chinese paintings by or attributed to women painters; since Scripps is a women’s college and works by women painters before 1900 are relatively rare, conservation of this work is appropriate and worthwhile.”

The Scripps College Collections has at least 3 other works by Chinese women, and a number of bamboo paintings by men. Thus, this work provides rare insight to a long but poorly documented tradition of female artists and to the world of scholars who painted bamboo as a means of self-expression and political protest.

In the 1920s this painting was mounted on a wooden frame for museum display, resulting in stains and abrasions which can be significantly reduced through careful conservation. The work has also darkened with time and become brittle, due to constant exposure to air. Conservation efforts would clean the surface, infill silk and paint losses, and return the work to a hanging scroll form with new mounting materials. (Conservation estimate needed, but probably about $10,000)
Professor Bruce Coats, Scripps College


Old number "L1136/52" written in pencil on the backing paper. Listed in the Munthe inventory (p. 52) as "A masterly bamboo drawing by Lady Kuan (Kuan Fu-jen), wife of Chao Mong-fu, who originated a new style of bamboo sketches which were taken as models by all subsequent students. She published an elaborate treatise on Bamboo Drawing, which is still extant and regarded as the authoritative work on the subject. Original productions of her brush are hard to obtain, as they are jealously kept in Chinese collections. This is a masterpiece bearing the ear-marks of an original. Note the young bamboo shoots below. The poem accompaning the picture is also written by her hand." A hand-written note identifies the seal at the lower right as that of Lin Yi (Ming). Another hand-written note states "So far as I know no other original work by Lady Kuan has ever left China."

Marks
Spurious inscription, signature and seals of Guan Daosheng, Yuan dynasty painter, and wife of Zhao Mengfu. Inscription is a seven character quatrain in cursive calligraphy.

Professor Kathleen Ryor, Carleton College

There is calligraphy in the upper right with a red ink square seal and a red ink rectangular seal stamped at the end. A rectangular red ink seal in stamped in the lower right of the image.

Medium
Black ink brushed onto silk, with an off-white silk brocade border.

Object Description
Mounted vertical scroll of a bamboo grove and rough, artfully shaped rocks.

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