88.5 x 21.5cm image; 100.0 x 27.0cm overall
Yang Jin, alias Zihe, pseudonym Xiting and He Daoren, was a native of Changshu, Jiangsu province. At a young age, he became a student and assistant of Wang Hui (1632-1717), one of the greatest painters of the Qing dynasty. Not only did he receive instruction from Wang Hui, he also was frequently asked to fill in certain details of his teacher’s paintings and had collaborated with him. Yang Jin also travelled with his teacher to the capital when the latter was appointed to direct the creation of “Southern Cruise of Emperor Kangxi”, a painting composed under imperial auspices in 1691. He particularly assisted him in the drawing of figures, animals, buildings, and vehicles etc.
As a prominent figure in the Yushan School, Yang’s landscape painting followed the style of his master, displaying fine and delicate brushwork, soft, cheerful colours, and refined detail. He is best known for his tranquil pastoral scenes in landscape with water buffalos, and for flower-and-bird painting in "boneless” style.
In this landscape, the composition opens with two tall trees standing on a raised piece of land in the foreground. On a level area beside the rocks and water a scholar is seated in a pavilion near a stream, hidden by woods and bamboos, near the painting’s centre and surrounded by plants. In combination with lively brushwork and washed with light brown on the leaves, the painting affords a feeling of the clear, fresh atmosphere of an autumn day. A low mist edges up against the foot of the sheer cliffs, the height of which are thus made apparent in the scene.
In his own inscription on the painting, Yang Jin acknowledges his indebtedness to Ke Danqiu (Ke Jiusi, 1290-1343), a Yuan period collector, calligrapher and painter. The works of Ke Jiusi are rare today, and he is best known for his ink bamboo. The influence in this landscape of Ke Jiusi is obvious in the emphasis of dense bamboos around the pavilion. However, it is rather the ethos of eremitism - the retreat from society into a life of reclusion that really connects the painting to Ke Danqiu. Ke had pursued official careers in the early years of his life but later found the world of politics too harsh and humiliating to merit his service. Pleading illness, he retired to indulge in the practice of art and a life of leisure, and later became a Daoist.
In classical Chinese landscape painting, one popular pattern is the so-called retreat genre - the depiction of a thatched cottage silhouetted against a background of mountains and streams. Portrayed within the thatched hut is a recluse - often described by artists as 'gaoshi' (lofty gentleman) or 'gaoyi' (lofty and disengaged). In such settings, the atmospheric effects created around the retreat often draw the theme beyond the peaceful solitude of the secular eremitic mode to evoke feelings of otherworldliness.
The inscription on the top right corner reads: ‘A lofty and disengaged recluse in an autumnal pavilion, painted in the manner of KE Danqiu [1290-13443] by Yang Jin’. The inscription is followed by the artist’s seals: ‘Yang Jin zhiyin (‘Seal of Yang Jin’) and ‘Zihe’.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, December 2009.
One hundred flowers (2011), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 01 Sep 2011–15 Jan 2012