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Travelers Among Mountains and Streams

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Sung dynasty

Fan K'uan (active 10th-early 11th century), Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 206.3 x 103.3 cm 

Fan K'uan, a native of Hua-yüan (modern Yao-hsien) in Shensi province, often traveled the area between the capital and Loyang. Although he was known for his magnanimous character, straightforward personality, and fondness of drink and the Tao, he is famous now for his landscape painting. In his early study of painting, he followed the style of the Shantung artist Li Ch'eng (919-967). Later, however, he came to realize that if he really wanted to portray the land, he had to take Nature as his teacher rather than other artists or their works. After all, a personal landscape exists in nature and in the mind. Fan K'uan thereupon went to Mt. Hua and secluded himself among the forests and mountains, devoting himself to observing the effects of atmospheric, weather, and seasonal changes on the scenery. Contemporaries thereupon praised him for being able to commune with the mountains. This masterpiece is a testament to his skills and ideas in landscape painting.

The clusters of vegetation at the top of the tall mountain here are actually distant forests clinging to a precarious perches. Running along the central axis of the scroll, the central mountain dominates the scene in a classic example of Northern Sung monumental landscape painting. The rooftops of a building complex stand out in the right middleground. By the cluster of rocks in the right foreground is a path on which a mule train makes its way. A cascade as slender as silk falls from the heights above, culminating in the stream rushing down in eddies towards the foreground. From near to far, Fan K'uan has described with realistic detail the solemn grandeur of a majestic landscape. Fan K'uan rendered the mountains and slopes with jagged outline strokes and filled them with brush dabs resembling raindrops--techniques that highlight the monumental and eternal features of the mountains. To the right of the mule train, among the leaves, is the signature of Fan K'uan, a final touch by an artist to epitomize the insignificance of humans (including himself) compared to Nature.


Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum