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Asian art

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Calligraphy (Li Bai's poem in semi-cursive script)



Duan Fang


1861 - 1911


‘Vaulting down for three thousand feet,
It’s like the Milky Way tumbling from the Nine Heavens.’
Inscription and signature: [Written] in the fourth moon of the year 'yisi' [1905]. Duanfang.

The ancestors of Duanfang (alias Wu Qiao, style name Taozhai) were originally Han Chinese. They moved from their native place in Zhejiang to Manchuria in the late Ming dynasty, and eventually became Manchu subjects, adopting the clan name Tohoro. Duanfang became an honorary licentiate late in his teens, and served for a few years as a second-class secretary and then as an assistant director of a department in the Board of Works. After he received the ‘juren’ degree in 1882, he obtained many high government appointments, including governor of Hubei province, acting governor-general of Hu-guang (Hunan and Guangdong) and of Liangjiang (in present-day Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces). A modernising high-ranking official of the Qing dynasty, Duanfang was one of five special commissioners who travelled to Western countries to observe the forms of government in 1906. He was a successful official, as well as a renowned collector-connoisseur. In his spare time, he dedicated himself to collecting and studying Chinese antiquities, and assembled a great private collection and published several important catalogues. As Tomas Lawton puts it, ‘Almost every museum in the world with a Chinese collection contains some artefacts that have passed through Tuan-fang’s hands’ (1).

The lyrical content was drawn from the last two lines of a poem by the great Tang dynasty poet Li Bai (701–762AD), ‘Gazing at the waterfall at Mount Lu’. The first two lines read: ‘Sunlight flows on the Incense-Burner Peak, sparking a purple haze, / From far to see, the river hangs high on the cliff’. Duanfang’s brushwork reflects the elegant and graceful manner of ‘tiexue’ style: it is decidedly fluent without a trace of hesitation. The overall demeanour conveys a pleasing ease.

1 Tomas Lawton, ‘A time of transition: two collectors of Chinese art’, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas 1991, pg.5–64; For Duanfang’s life, see Ke, Shaoming, et al. 1977, in ‘Qing shigao' (History of the Qing dynasty ), Zhonghua Press, Beijing, ‘Biography’ 256.

‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’, pg.104.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales


Place where the work was made




Media category


Materials used

hanging scroll; ink on paper


66.3 x 27.1 cm image; 173.0 x 43.2 cm scroll

Signature & date

Signed l.l., in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "... [Written] in the fourth moon of the year of Yisi (1905), Duanfang.".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Duanfang yinxin [artist's seal]".


Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Duan Fang

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape Painting', Sydney, 2003, 158 (colour illus.).

LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 104, 105 (illus.). 29