Introduction of “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”
Yangzhou, the city with a 2,500-year-long history, once served as the lifeblood of economy and culture of ancient China. With its abundance of talented, elegant writers and artists, Yangzhou witnessed the birth of numerous literary and artistic works that enjoy popularity for thousands of years. In the mid-Qing dynasty, a group of artists who were determined to reform the then China got together in Yangzhou, and later gained the enduring nickname “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” due to their “eccentrically” unrestrained, high-profile characters and their works that challenge and shock the established social conventions. This unique group of painters and calligraphers, represented by 15 scholars including Zheng Xie (1693-1766 AD), Jin Nong (1867-1763 AD), Huang Shen (1687-1772 AD), Wang Shishen (1686-1759 AD), Li Shan (1686-1762 AD), Gao Xiang (1688-1753 AD), Luo Pin (1733-1799 AD), etc., who either suffered setbacks while working for the government, or never served public positions, were very much concerned about the fate of their nation and people though they had experienced hardships and difficulties, and endowed the literary and artistic works with their own anger and resentment at society, which made these works significant culture- and reality-wise. In terms of artistic creation, they sought to use the brush to express their own feelings and emotions disregarding social or cultural conventions, following the preceding painters known for dedication to reform such as Chen Chun (1484-1543 AD), Xu Wei (1521-1593 AD), Zhu Da (1626-ca. 1705 AD) and Shi Tao (1642-1708 AD), and aimed to “create literary pieces that are louder than thunders and are able to overturn the world as well as unprecedented paintings that denounce both deities and demons”. Their artworks, mostly free-hand bird & flower paintings with calligraphy characteristic of inscriptions on ancient bronzeware and stone steles, combined poetry, calligraphy, painting, seal-making into an integral whole, thus standing out as a distinctive new school compared with those of their peer’s, and exerting long-lasting influence on the following generations.
The middle of the Qing Dynasty, a group of skilled artists gathered here. They are known as “strange”, personality publicity uninhibited, works shocked the world, then “Yangzhou eight strange” in the name of the world spread in the world. “Yangzhou eight strange” is a unique group of calligraphers, mainly to Zheng Xie, Jinnong, Huang Shen, Wang Shishen, Li, Gao Xiang, Luo hired 15 people as the representative. They or bureaucratic frustration, or life-long commoner … … although the taste of people between the cold and warm, but often worry about the hearts of the people of the heart, the reality of society will be affectionate afflicted among the works, so that the work break through the stylized more humane.
Hua Yan (1682-1756 AD)
Hua Yan, courtesy name Qiuyue and sobriquet Xinluo Shanren (person from Mount Xinluo), was regarded by his peer as a scholar having “three incomparable talents”, namely, painting, calligraphy and poetry. Though more famous for his animal painting, Hua Yan excelled in painting figures, landscapes, birds & flowers, plants & insects, in which he strived to shrug off conventions of his time and follow the archaic ways of painting.
Gao Fenghan (1683-1749 AD)
Alias Gao Han, courtesy name Xiyuan and nicknames Nancun (southern village), Nanfu (southern mountain) and Yunfu (cloud mountain), Gao Fenghan had more than 40 sobriquets including Yindi (because of place), Yinshi (because of time), Yinbing (because of illness), and also Shang Zuosheng, meaning “living on the left (hand)” as he had to paint and write with his left hand due to a disabled right hand in his later years. Once served as county-chief for counties of She and Jixi of Anhui province, Gao was adept at painting, literature, calligraphy, poetry and seal-carving, creating interesting convention-breaking pieces.
Gao Xiang (1688-1753 AD)
Courtesy name Fenggang, nickname Xitang (western pond), sobriquet Shanlin Waichen (outsider of mountain forests), Gao Xiang was versed in painting landscapes and flowers, as well as painting from life and seal-carving. While his landscape paintings bear affinity to those of his predecessors Hongren (1610-1664 AD) and Shi Tao (1642-1708 AD), most of his garden pieces were painted from life. He also painted Buddhist figures occasionally. In his later years, Gao Xiang had to paint with his left hand as his right one was disabled.
Chen Zhuan (1678-1758 AD)
Courtesy name Lengshan and sobriquets Yuji (jade stand), Yuji Shanren (mountain people of jade stand), etc., Chen Zhuan excelled in refreshing and elegant bird & flower painting, especially plum-blossoms. While also engaged in landscape painting, Chen was good at copying classic ancient paintings. Having become a student of Mao Qiling (1623-ca. 1716 AD), the renowned expert of ancient Chinese literature, Chen was also versed in literature and poetry, creating literary pieces as elegant as his paintings.
Bian Shoumin (1684-1752 AD)
Originally named Weiqi, courtesy names Yigong, Zheceng and Moxian, nickname Weijian Jushi (dweller among reeds), and sobriquets Weijian Laomin (old farmer among reeds), Chuoweng and Chuochuo Laoren in his later years, Bian Shoumin was good at painting birds, flowers, vegetables, fruits, landscapes, and reeds & geese (called “luyan” in Chinese) in particular, thus also known as “Bian Luyan”. He was also versed in light-ink “minor” painting with texture brushwork, as well as poetry and calligraphy.
Wang Shishen (1686-1759 AD)
Courtesy name Jinren, nickname Chaolin (birds’ nest in woods), and sobriquets Qifeng Jushi (dweller of seven peaks), Xidong Waishi (outsider from east of creek), Wanchun Laoren (late-spring old man), Ganquanshan Jiqiao (logger of Mount Ganquan), Xinguan Daoren (mind-reading taoist), Zuo Mangsheng (blind left), etc., Wang Shishen was more commonly known as “Wang Liu” as he ranked the sixth (called “liu” in Chinese) among his siblings. Adept at painting, calligraphy, poetry, seal-carving, and at plum-blossom painting in particular, Wang lived on selling his paintings while living in Yangzhou most of his life and never severed any public position in his entire lifetime.
Li Shan (1686-1726 AD)
Courtesy name Zongyang, nickname Futang (double halls) and sobriquets Ao Daoren (Taoist who regrets), Momoren (ink-stick grinder), Li Shan, who succeeded in the Imperial Examination in1711, the 50th year of Emperor Kangxi’s reign (1662-1722 AD) of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD), was a high-achieving artist of imperial-court-style fine-brushwork painting. His midlife witnessed a shift in his artistic style to bold, unrestrained free-hand brushwork with intense emotions. Li Shan’s artworks exerted a relatively huge influence on the bird & flower painting in the late Qing dynasty.
Jin Nong (1687-1763 AD)
Courtesy name Shoumen, Sinong and Jijin, nicknames Dongxin Xiansheng (man of winter heart), Jiliu Shanmin (mountain people of Jiliu), Qujiang Waishi (outsider of River Qu), Xiye Jushi (resident of Xiye), etc., Jin Nong loved traveling and lived on selling his paintings after settling in Yangzhou in his later years. Jin Nong invented the “flat-stroke script” (bianbi shuti) of calligraphy, which combined features of regular (kaishu) and clerical (lishu) scripts and was regarded as “lacquer script” (qishu) by his peer. Starting to paint at the age of 53, Li Shan excelled in painting flowers, plum blossoms in particular, by use of light ink and dried-up brushes, creating pieces known for the eccentric and archaic shape of objects.
Huang Shen (1687-ca. 1770 AD)
Originally named Huang Sheng, courtesy names Gongshou and Gongmao, nickname Yingpiaozi (ladle made of warts), and sobriquets Donghai Buyi (commoner from East Sea), Hutu Jushi (confused laymen), etc., Huang Shen excelled in calligraphy of cursive script (caoshu), in which he imitated the style of the renowned Tang-dynasty calligrapher Huaisu (725-785 AD). While also involved in figure painting, he based most of his figure paintings on Chinese myths and legends. He later experimented with wide cursive calligraphy in painting, ending up with pieces with unrestrained, magnificent and archaic brushwork.
Painting Scroll of Everything Going Well by Gao Xiang
This painting, with a simple composition, elegant palette and skillful, powerful brushwork, features two chestnut and persimmon branches with fruits, conveying the wishes of “everything going well” based on the homonyms of “persimmon” and “thing” as well as “chestnut” and “going well” in the Chinese language.
Yang Fa, courtesy name Jijun, nicknames Xiaofu (son with filial piety) and Xiaozhi (young man with filial piety) and sobriquet Baiyun Dizi (son of emperor white clouds), was versed in painting and calligraphy. His calligraphy pieces of seal (zhuanshu), clerical (lishu), running (xingshu) and cursive (caoshu) scripts stood out from those of his peer’s as a distinctive category with an eccentric, archaic and energetic style.
In his seal-script calligraphy, Yang Fa intended to employ curvy and “trembled” strokes which give these pieces an archaic and elegant sense, while his clerical script bears affinity to Jin Nong’s “lacquer script” (qishu) with an eccentric composition, quaint and abrupt strokes, posing a contrast to his running script with agile, sparsely-arranged strokes showing a strict conformity with existing rules.
Fan panels of China roses, hydrangeas and squirrels are the only existing paintings of Yang Fa as most of his artworks have been lost. This thin-line piece presents a vivid illustration of flowering branches with a refreshing, elegant color palette by outlining flowers and dotting leaves, which is indeed an excellent piece of painting from life.
Li Mian (1691-1755 AD)
Famous for his lotus painting in which the modeling of lotus blossoms bears affinity to those of Zhu Da, Li Mian excelled in both painting (birds & flowers in particular) and poetry. His actually had a bigger reputation as a poet than painter, as his poems with beautiful, elegant lines usually create a refreshing, in-depth and spiritually detached atmosphere. Li Mian had courtesy names of Xiaocun, Ranggao and Panshou, and nicknames of Li San and Tiedisheng.
Zheng Xie (1693-1765 AD)
Courtesy name Kerou, nickname Li’an, sobriquet Banqiao (wood-board bridge) and more commonly addressed as Banqiao Xiansheng, Zheng Xie once served as county- chief for counties of Fan and Wei in Shandong province after his consecutive successes in the Imperial Examinations, winning the title of “Xiucai” after passing the county-level exam during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722 AD), the title of “Juren” after passing the provincial-level examination in 1732, the 10th year of Emperor Yongzheng’s reign (1723-1735 AD) and “Jinshi” after the national-level exam with the Emperor present in 1736, the first year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1736-1795 AD).
Before and after he served the public office, Zheng Xie lived on selling paintings. Versed in poetry, painting and calligraphy, and famous for his orchid and bamboo painting nationwide, Zheng Xie invented a distinctive script named by himself “liu fen ban shu” (literally meaning “65% of script”) which combines regular and clerical scripts half and half.
Li Fangying (1697-1756 AD)
Courtesy name Qiuzhong, nickname Qingjiang (river on sunny days) and sobriquets Qiuchi (pond of autumn), Liuyuan (willow garden), Yibai Shanren (mountain people of Yibai), etc., Li Fangying once served as chief for counties including Le’an, Lanshan, Qianshan, and resigned after being wrongly accused. Good at poetry, painting and calligraphy, especially painting of plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums, fish, etc., Li Fangying attached great importance to inheritance of preceding techniques and traditions, and developed his own unique style featuring skillful brushwork, simple modeling going beyond the resemblance of shape, and in all, a lively and vivid illustration.
Min Zhen (1730-later than 1788)
Courtesy name Zhengzhai and sobriquets Qingqiao (green bridge), Dongmin (Min from the east), etc., Min Zhen’s painting bears affinity to that of Wu Wei (1459-1508 AD) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD). He excelled in landscape, figure and bird & flower paintings, most of which are of eccentric free-hand brushwork while some are fine-brushwork pieces. His figure paintings are the most distinctive, with simple but natural brushwork leading to a vivid illustration both physically and spiritually.
Luo Pin (1733-1799 AD)
Luo Pin, courtesy name Dunfu, nickname Liangfeng (two peaks), and sobriquets Huazhi Siseng (monk from Temple Huazhi), Jinniu Shanren (mountain people of Jinniu), Yiyun Daoren (Taoist from Yiyun), Liaozhou Yufu (fisher from Liaozhou), etc., was a masterful painter of figures (especially Buddhist figures), landscapes, flowers (orchid and bamboo in particular). His paintings feature eccentric brushwork that developed its own unique style based on inheritance of preceding techniques.