135.5 x 31.2cm each
‘In the distance, a robust falcon skirts the coast swiftly;
Holding our minds aloof from the world, there is only me and the seagulls.’
Inscription and signature: For the appraisal of Mr Geng’nan. Assembling poems by Lu You, written by Shang Yanliu at the age of 80.
Shang Yanliu (alias Zaoting, style name Youzhang) was a native of Panyu (present-day Guangzhou). He earned the coveted ‘jinshi’ degree in 1904, taking the third place (he carved this piece of information in the second seal on this couplet), and became a member of the Hanlin Academy. In 1906, he was sent to Japan along with Zhu Ruzhen to study law and constitution matters. He remained there until 1909. Between 1909 and 1912 he was a professor of Chinese at the Overseas Commercial College in Hamburg. Upon returning to Beijing, he served in the Republican government as an adviser to the vice-president, then to the president, and was a special delegate for the Finance Department to Jiangxi. After 1949, he served for some years as the deputy director of the Central Research Institute of History Archive. He is considered a scholar and calligrapher, and his most well-known book was ‘Accounts of the imperial civil service examination in the Qing dynasty’. His calligraphy is highly treasured, especially when it is grouped along with works by Liu Chunlin, Zhu Ruzhen and Zhang Qihou who took first place (‘zhuangyuan’), second place (‘bangyan’) and the fourth place (‘chuanlu’) respectively, in the highest level of the last imperial civil service examination – the group called ‘jidi siping’.
The couplet is composed of lines taken from two separate poems by Lu You of the Southern Song dynasty (1). It expresses a typical Chinese literati’s view of phenomena: by communicating with the natural realm, one can escape the disturbing pressures of the mundane world. The brushwork in this couplet is bold and vigorous, which reflects the influence of the Tang calligrapher Yan Zhengqing. The broad brush tip sweeps over the paper, leaving traces of white which contrast with the strokes in heavy ink, providing a source of calligraphic charm.
1 Su Shi, ‘Chufa yiling’ (Departure from Yiling), and ‘Duzuo’ (Sitting alone)
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.119
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales
The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005.