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Remote View of Streams and Hills

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Sung dynasty


Hsia Kuei (fl. 1180-1230), Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Handscroll, ink on paper, 46.5 x 889.1 cm 
Hsia Kuei (style name Yü-yü) is a representative painter of the Southern Sung (1127-1279) court. He is frequently paired with another renowned member of the painting academy, Ma Yüan. Due to the compositional focus of their landscape paintings often being in one part of their work, they have been referred to as "One-corner Ma and One-side Hsia." In addition, he is ranked along with Ma Yüan, Liu Sung-nien, and Li T'ang as one of the Four Masters of the Southern Sung. Hsia Kuei was a native of Ch'ien-t'ang (modern Hangchow) and it was during the reign of Emperor Ning-tsung (r. 1195-1224) that he received the prestigious Golden Belt and was promoted to the rank of Painter-in-Attendance. His most familiar style involves creating a composition in which only a small part of the scenery is revealed, the rest being concealed in mist. In addition to his innovative composition, his brushwork was also rich and varied, especially in the use of energetic texture strokes.

This handscroll is composed of ten pieces of paper connected together. Except for the first piece measuring 25 centimeters long, the rest are all about 96 centimeters. The landscape varies considerably in this painting as the artist used different angles to view the scenery. It ranges from rising peaks to winding rivers, creating an unusual compositional structure for the work. Likewise, the variety of brush and ink for the trees is also great. The "large axe-cut strokes," which are named after their resemblance to chopped wood, are derived from the "axe-cut" texture strokes developed earlier in the Sung by Li T'ang. These simplified yet naturalistic slanted brushstrokes describe the earthen forms and hills. Forms were first outlined with dry ink and then washed with ink that varies in tone from jet-black to gray. Compositionally, this long scroll can be divided into three distinct sections, with each one revealing a contrast between near and far as well as solid and void. Hsia Kuei thus took the spatial depth and softness of ink wash to its extreme, and his ability to control and convey the essence of water and ink was especially impressive. 

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum