180.6 x 38.5cm image; 229.0 x 49.0cm overall
‘[In regards to calligraphy] Next is disposition: it should not be too relaxed, yet not overstep the bounds, making it ingeniously appropriate. Then there is the quality paper and brush. Then the proper alterations – no matter if releasing or seizing [the brushes], both should suit the established practice. If [one’s calligraphy] possesses all these five qualities, it then can be equal to the ancients.’
Inscription and signature: Qikun.
Chen Qikun (alias Wushan, style name Tangxi) was a well-known calligrapher of the Guangdong region during the Daoguang period (r1821–50). A native of Panyu (in present-day Guangzhou), he gained his ‘jinshi’ degree in 1826, and was assistant secretary for the Ministry of Ceremonies. Later in life, he lectured at the Yangcheng Academy in Guangzhou for some 30 years. He was a connoisseur and master of the ‘qin’, a seven-stringed instrument similar to the zither.
Chen’s composition in this hanging scroll is a segment taken from a longer discussion on calligraphy by the Tang dynasty calligrapher Zhang Xu (early 8th century). When Zhang was asked by his student, the then young Yan Zhenqing, about how one’s calligraphy could become as good as the ancients, Zhang put forward five principles: brush handling; awareness of brush method; disposition; superb paper and brush; and appropriate alteration of the rule. He advised that if one’s calligraphy had all five qualities, then one could match the ancients for excellence. This hanging scroll contains only three of these five principles, and is possibly the last piece of a set of two.
The script Chen used in this work is appropriate for the content. ‘Caoshu’ (cursive script) evolved in the Eastern Han (25–220 CE) and reached its peak in the Tang dynasty. The characters vary in size in the same piece of writing. They are generally executed swiftly, with the strokes running together or joining up, and with the last stroke of the first character merging into the initial stroke of the next, producing a kind of visual continuity from top to bottom. The irregular lines and the fluid relationships between the words allowed the calligrapher considerable compositional freedom. Zhang Xu was a great master at ‘caoshu’, noted for the complete abandon with which he applied the brush. It is said that he would not set about writing until he had become drunk.
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.58.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales
LIU Yang (China; Australia), The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Domain, 2005, 58, 59 (illus.). cat.no. 7
The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005.