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Noteworthy Essays Table of Contents

"An Analysis of the History of Court Painting in the Yuan Period and Exemplary Works"

Yu Hui
Gugong bowuyuan yuankan 1998.3, 61-78

[reprinted from China Archaeology and Art Digest 3:2/3 (January 2000)]

This is the text-only version.

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During the 97 years of the Yuan dynasty the literati yibi style of painting, characterised by the use of rapid rhythmic strokes rather than the careful delineating used in the gongbi style, and realistic painting apprached their peak. The author traces the lives of palace artists active during the Yuan and their influence on the stylistic changes that took place during the period. He divides such artists into three groups: 1. palace artists, who included literati painters employed in civilian positions at the palace and full-time professional painters; 2. painters from the region south of the Yangzi River, mainly southern Suzhou and the Jiahu Plain region of Hangzhou; and 3. artists in temples south of the Yangzi, for example the Buddhist monk Yintuoluo and the Taoist priest Fang Congyi, although "ink play" played only a secondary role. The first two groups, however, were mutually influential and artists who worked in both the north and the south, for example, Zhao Mengfu, Gao Kegong, Ren Renfa and Zhu Derun, helped facilitate inks between the two regions.

According to the author more than 30 artists whose names are known today worked at the Yuan court, and during the reigns of Emperors Shizu (1260-1294), Renzong (1311-1320) and Wenzong (1328-1332) such court artists were particularly numerous and their artistic output correspondingly vigorous. The author subdivides the painting activities at the Yuan court into two periods:

  1. 1271-1286, when organisations within the palace associated with painting were first established and literati and professional painters, including Hao Jing (1223-1275), Liu Yuan , Liu Yin (1249-1293), He Cheng (1223-1316), Shi Gang, Liu Guandao and Zhang L]Kongsun (1233-1307), were brought from the Jin state. During this stage jiehua, paintings which encompassed architectural structures and boats, were popular. For example, He Cheng's painting Gui zhuang tu (Returning to the village), in the collection of the Jilin Provincial Museum, which demonstrates a combination of late Jin and early Yuan styles. In addition to examining works by literati painters, the author also looks at several figural paintings by the professional painters Liu Yuan and Liu Guandao.

2. 1287-1320, when the literati painters Zhao Mengfu, He Cheng, Pu Guang and Li Kan (1245-1320), and the gongbi painters Liu Yuan and Ren Renfa were active at court. The author discusses extant works by these and other painters of the period, and their stylistic development and influence. The article includes a useful chart showing the periods at which the artists mentioned and others were active at court during the Yuan dynasty.


Ren Daobin, A Chronological Biography of Zhao Mengfu (Henan renmin chubanshe, 1984).

Zhang Lu, "A Brief Discussion on Gao Kegong," Meishu yanjiu 1989.2.

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Volume 1, Issue 1
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