‘The scent of flowers becomes more intense as the dew gets heavier;
The sound of bamboo is serene when the wind blows gently.’
Inscription and signature: For Mr Zhancheng. Feng Chengxiu, style name Qianzhai.
The poem in this couplet is taken from various sources. The first line was modified from a verse by Zhang Xiaoxiang of the Northern Song dynasty (1). The scent of flowers and the elegant bamboo hint at a serene and secluded garden retreat, surroundings that are conducive to study and meditation.
Feng Chengxiu (alias Dafu, style name Qianzhai ) is a good example of the successful scholar-official rising from humble beginnings. He was born in Nanhai, Guangdong, and after his father disappeared while he was very young, Feng drifted about, destitute, finally settling in neighbouring Yangxi county. Legend has it that Feng once had a dream in which he was accompanied by a servant holding a banner bearing his official title ‘Guizhou xuezheng’ (director of education). This dream encouraged Feng to apply himself to his studies (2). In 1739 at the age of 37, he gained his 'jinshi' degree (the degree for the highest civil service examination). He was made a bachelor of the prestigious Hanlin Academy, and thereafter was appointed to various government positions, including senior secretary of the Ministry of Rites (3).
The calligraphic style Feng demonstrates in this work, so-called ‘xingshu’ or running script, lies somewhere between the regular (‘kaishu’) and cursive (‘caoshu’) scripts, in that at times the strokes are controlled and regular, and at other times free-flowing and informal. In general it is a simplification of the early regular forms, developed into stabilised and independent script types after the Han dynasty. From the late 17th to early 18th centuries, the stylish and graceful calligraphy (mainly running script) of Dong Qichang (1555–1636) was very popular because of Emperor Kangxi’s preference for it. However, during Qianlong’s reign (1736–95), imperial taste shifted to the brisk, well-knit style of Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). Although quite different in style, elegance and grace characterised the calligraphy of both Dong and Zhao, and this is demonstrated in this couplet.
1 Zhang Xiaoxiang (1132–69), ‘In a flowering season, the heaven resembles river (Pusa man, huayue tian ru shui)'.
2 Li Boyuan 1985, Nanting sihua, Shanghai shudian, chapter 6, pg.395.
3 For life of Feng Chengxiu, see Ke, Shaoming, et al. 1977, ‘Qing shigao' (History of the Qing dynasty), Zhonghua Press, Beijing, 'Biography' 257.
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.46.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales
The couplet, written on two narrow pieces of paper or silk, and hung either side of a large painting or doorway, is one of the most common forms of calligraphic art and has a long standing history in China. They first appeared in the Five Dynasties period (907-979) as pairs of plaques, carved after written master copies, to decorate architectural columns, courtyards and garden doorways. Couplets for indoor display, written on paper or silk, came into existence in the 17th century and gained great popularity in the Qing dynasty. The couplets themselves are either taken from classical poetry or contemporary literary works composed by the calligraphers themselves and their friends. A couplet is made up of two parts called the head and the tail. The two lines of verse are antithetically parallel. Formerly it was a very common practice to send them to friends or relations on such occasions as marriages and birthdays, or as condolences to families of deceased persons.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, August 2003.
Place where the work was made
Qing dynasty 1644 - 1911 → China
pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
a - right scroll; 116.9 x 7.4 cm; image
a - right scroll; 154.5 x 32.5 cm; scroll
b - left scroll; 116.9 x 7.4 cm; image
b - left scroll; 154.5 x 32.5 cm; scroll
Signature & date
Signed c.l. part b, in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "...Qianzhai, Feng Chengxiu".
Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Qianzhai [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Feng Chengxiu Yin [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Nanshi zhizhang [artist's seal]".
Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 1 exhibition
The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005
Referenced in 2 publications
Bruce Crossman, Intercultural music: creation and interpretation, 'Moving Between Things: Heaven and Hell, Visual and Sonic Gestures towards Transcendent Oneness', pg. 45-50, Sydney, 2006, 48 (illus.). figure 1
Unknown, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 46, 47 (illus.). cat.no. 1