Huang Jingren of the Qing Dynasty wrote in the “Write a Poem after Seeing the Collective Volumes of Sun Xueju and Dong Qichang in the Collection of Ji Wuxiang Pavilion and Taichang Hut”, “It is said that a painting could not perfectly portray a poem, on the contrary I believe that a poem is a a picturesque scene.” ① In fact, even the beautiful visual scenery is described as “picturesque”, when ordinary people face picturesque scenes, therefore, “painting” is also a byword for beautiful scenery. In this article, the “picturesque scene” of the Jiangnan residential, does not refer to the primary feelings as in the description of the residential objects in the Jiangnan District by the visual senses of the artists, instead, the imagination and ideas of a higher level extend from the integration of the landscape in the eyes of the artist, and the emotions and aesthetic orientation, which is the foundation of an idea for an artist to paint and create, and even becomes the soul of the painting.
The implication of Jiangnan residential is constituted by architectural spatial plastic and regional culture. You could see a lot of residential architectures of goodly form across China, these outstanding residential architectures and the beautiful countryside environment could be the themes of the painters. But among the various residential forms in the paintings, the Jiangnan riverside town residential is the most commonly featured. We can even trace back to the ancient painters.
In ancient times, the majority of literatii were good at painting. Be good to yourself when you are poor, and share with others when you are rich. For a man, either holds office at court or not, the painting is no more than the idle interest of flirtation. In the edification of the “installation of heaven and earth in my house” ②, burning incense, brewing a pot of tea, they painted their own painting for entertainment. “Clouds born between the girders and roof beams, while the wind flows through the window” ③. “The arrangement of the caves in the distance from the window, overlooking forest of arbors in the yard”④. “The white clouds gathering on the roof beams, with the red sunset outside the window” ⑤. “Mountains and Moon are close to the window, the stars go down into the house” “Mountains and rivers decorate the households, while the sun and moon are around the carved beams”. ⑥ “Drawing a mountain in the mind when sitting down, feeling the coming of the wind and rain when standing by the window”. ⑦ From these verses we can understand the spatial awareness in the minds of the ancient artists, that is the snare of heaven and earth in the house, breathing the air from the mountains and rivers in the mind. Whether it is based on satisfaction and reality or the vast earth, this spatial sense certainly maybe of a subtle influence with the houses. Laozi said: “Stay in the house, to know the world.” ⑨ Zhuangzi said: “The way emerges from the blank canvas” ⑩. This spatial concept fits the practice of the painters who love to paint windows, households, courtyards, steps, curtains, screens, parapets, and gardens.
There is “The Proportion Table of Painters According to Different Regions and Dynasties” in the appendix of “The Entire History of the Study of Chinese Painting” ⑪ in the codification of Zheng Wuchang. Although perhaps his statistics are not comprehensive, it is obvious that far more painters came from the Provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang than any other place in Chinese history. In fact, Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces are not regions with miraculous mountains and rivers. In the past, when people analyzed this phenomenon, they often found reasons within the aspects of the developed economy and culture. But it was not the only region of economic prosperity in history, and from the early Ming Dynasty through to the Qing Dynasty, there was not any capital in the region. Therefore, it seems that we can also look at this phenomenon from the impact to the painters with the unique artistic charm of the Jiangnan buildings.
For the Jiangnan riverside town residential in the Taihu Lake drainage area, there are various plastic and graphic processes, tall and narrow large wooden structure, exquisitely decorated, delicate woodcuts and carved bricks, and lightweight roofing. The elegant waterside architecture implies a slightly floating, a slowly flowing image and gesture. The intellectuals living here, influenced by the residential arts, found it easy to appreciate the beauty of the architectural form. Traditional Chinese painting prefers the use of a line to emphasize the relationships between light and shadow, and colors, because the color of the Chinese residential is simple, basically white walls and black tiles, and the walls rarely change. It is no better than lines to perform the grids, casements, windows and doors, as well as layers of tiles. It is quite appropriate to use traditional Chinese painting to complete the residential images, whether it is a line drawing or in freehand.
Here is a painting of the scene of a river in Jiangnan District by the writer totally drawn using a line. It does not use sketch tones of black, white and gray, also it does not perform light and shadow with the aid of any line. But the clear foreground, middle ground and distant ground are clearly displayed on the paper. Therefore, from ancient artists’ works, we can see the beauty of the Jiangnan water town architecture. At the same time, we are also able to recognize the picturesque scene of the Jiangnan residential was the important element to move painters.
Indeed, there are some difficulties in performing the Jiangnan residential, Maksimov (Максимов.KM), an artist from former Soviet Union held a well-known training course at CAFA in 1950s, during which he performed the Jiangnan riverside town by oil painting, together with the students. But Maksimov strictly obeyed the Soviet Union-style teaching principle in his sketches, trying his best to use the delicate relationships between the warm and cold colors. Unfortunately, the plastic means of the rich colors of the Russian oil painting failed in the performance of the white walls and black tiles of the Jiangnan residential. In last century, some Chinese artists such as Chen Yifei, etc., had captured the essence of the Jiangnan residential, reducing the chroma, emphasizing sketches and spatial sense, gaining a good effect in the paintings. Here is a painting entitled “Year After Year”, by the writer, which typically used the approaches of reducing the chroma and emphasizing the spatial sense of the sketch. In this picture, in addition some tiny areas of the painting are lit, the tones of black and gray fill the rest of it. He cleverly mixed and matched the two color gradation systems of the color and no color, so the viewers know the historical vicissitudes of the traditional water town, in the main tone without color; at the same time, the viewers could suck the fresh morning dew brought by the morning sun, and enjoy the quiet life, from the warm area illuminated by a beam of light.
When we wander in the old village and riverside town, we are often unconsciously infected by the beauty of the residential, as if drinking strong wine, and feel drunk. Describing from the perspective of the painting, we can feel an invisible colorless void with the architecture. “Tranquil and nothingness, reconciling with nature” ⑫. Therefore, Painting language has its own literary ideological content and visual tension. The painting entitled “Moisten the Sky” was intent to express a tranquil and nothingness quiet and deep artistic conception.
But from an architectural perspective, analyzing the forces constituting the Jiangnan residential, we can find a considerable number of aesthetic elements in the Jiangnan water town residential. It is easy to understand why there is a picturesque scene moving people in the Jiangnan residential.
To be continued…
1 “It is said that a painting couldn’t perfectly portray a poem, on the contrary I believe that a poem is a picturesque scene. It is said that the calligraphical beauty were known according to the painting, and I think the painting and calligraphy are the one.” Cited in Huang Jingren’s “Liangdangxuan Corpus”
2 [Qing Dynasty]Zhang Huiyan, “Shuidiaogetou”
3 [Jin Dynasty] Guo Pu, “Youxianshi/ Poetry about the Immortals”
4 [Six Dynasties] Xiao Taio, “Leisurely Overlooking from a High Apartment”
5 [Six Dynasties]Yin Keng, “New Cheng An Yue Palace”
6 [Tang Dynasty] Shen Quanqi, “Overnight in Qipan Ridge”
7 [Tang Dynasty] Du Fu, “Visit the Temple of Xuanyuan Emperor in the North of Luocheng City in the Winter”
8 [Song Dynasty] Huang Tingjian, “Inscription of Hu Yilao’s Zhixu Hut”
9 Laozi, “Tao Te Ching”
10 “Zhuangzi • Human World”
11 in 1929, Shanghai Zhonghua Bookstore Company
12 “Zhuangzi • Keyi/ Deliberate”
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO