Section 4: Lives of the painters

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Liang Kai, "The Madman"

Liang Kai lived roughly between 1140 and 1210. {Many of the writers refer to Speiser's article on Liang Kai in Ostasiatische Zeitscrift, Vol. 27, Nos. 5-6, 1941, pp. 159-168, quoting this date.} He was a member of the Painting Academy. He reached the highest rank, "tai chao" (ca. 1202-4). Soon afterwards, he was offered the Golden Girdle, meaning he was considered the chief painter in the land. Feng-tzu, "The Madman", as he nicknamed himself, never wore the Golden Girdle, but hung it in the court of the Academy. Liang Kai is notorious for his restlessness with the order of the Academy. He preferred the company and life in the monasteries. It is said that he retired to the Liu-tung monastery to become a Zen monk. He gained a reputation as an eccentric wino.

In the books available in Minneapolis, there is no record of the "real Liang Kai" -- what or how he lived. His paintings indicate that he knew and respected many men and was sympathetic to them. Landscapes or still life did not hold him. He sought "the human" directly, through portraiture.

Liang Kai's painting parallels his two lifestyles. His early work uses Academic conventions although his essential interests are already present. The basis for his fine reputation at the Academy is not clear. In the later work the Zen style emerges. Liang is credited with inventing it and having such strong influence that he created the whole school.

Mu Chi, Fa-chang

Traditionally, here and in Japan, Mu Chi is supposed to have been at work restoring the Liu-tung temple, in 1215. He is also said to have been the friend of Liang Kai. These stories are excluded from the certainty of history by recent biographers. Inquiring after the facts, they have revised his dates. Speiser (German) says Mu lived ca. 1220-1290. {Willetts: Chinese Art, p. 636.} Takagi and Saga (Japanese) have concluded that this is 1210-1275. {Siren: Chinese Painting, Vol. II, p. 138.} He lived in the Ching-shan monastery in Chekiang, in the Southeastern part of China. Later he moved to Hangchow and founded a school of painting at the Liu-tung temple-monastery.

He was called Fa-chang. As a pupil of Wu-Chun, he was a fellow student with the Japanese monks Sogen and Benen, who acquired some of his paintings for Japan. This helps to account for the continued association of his style with the Zen sect in Japan. Though he did not invent the Zen Buddhist painting style, he made it so completely his own that his "way" is apparent in every picture he painted. Mu Chi was the first to use the style for flowers, birds, and vegetables. He extended the style to fit into the painting categories of other artists. This is why his is the "type" of Zen Buddhist paintings, why he was so widely imitated and why there are so many fake Mu Chi paintings. Paintings of Taoist and Buddhist subjects, tigers, dragons, are also attributed to Mu Chi. Whether he painted these subjects or not is unknown. They do not accord with the understanding of the Zen Buddhist style developed in this paper.

Study of the numerous works attributed to Mu Chi is complicated by confusion of his works with Mokuan's. Mokuan was a Japanese monk painter of the early fourteenth century who made a trip to the temples of Hangchow. He imitated Mu Chi in such a perfect style that the abbey of the Liu-tung temple called him the reincarnation of Mu Chi. He then honored Mokuan by giving him Mu Chi's seals, which the monastery had preserved. Since attribution has been based on the seals, it seems certain that we have a mixed group of Mu Chi paintings, but no one has separated them stylistically.

The reproduction included is attributed to Mokuan by the University Print Series on Oriental Art. The case seems to be similar to that of Shih Ho's painting discussed in Section 9. {Online version note: In 2001, I don't know which reproduction is included.}

Yu Chien, "The Jade Stream"

Before Siren published his book for the West (1958), reporting recent discoveries by Orientalists, we could look at the picture named "Mountain Town in Fog", and think it was the only pciture by Ying Yu Chien, whom no one knew or cared anything about. Now there are several more facts and pictures which have confused everyone, even Siren.

Siren finds eight works attributed to Yu Chien, but divides them into two groups by two artists. In the book, he obtains this biographical information from the "Tiu-hui pac-chien", Volume Four, which no one had consulted about Yu Chien, apparently. {Siren: Chinese Painting, Volume II, pp. 142-143. This text is the source of all of the above information and quotations concerning Yu Chien.} In the text Siren gives the "good" (and larger) group (Nos. 79-82) to Jo-fen and under the reproductions he gives them back to Ying Yu Chien. In any case, the information in the text shows that Jo-fen, pseudonymously Yu Chien, is believed by some Japanese historians to be the painter of all the works signed Yu Chien, "The Jade Stream".

Ying Yu Chien was a monk in the Ching-tzu temple by the West Lake in Hangchow He leaned from Hui-chung, a once-famous monk painter. Yu Chien is supposed to be one of the first to follow Mu Chi.

Jo-fen has many names and many homes. He served as a recorder in the Shang-chu temple in Hangchow. He said that he painted cloudy mountains to express his ideas. When crowds of people came to ask for his pictures he said, "Dissemblance is certainly more acceptable to the world than the real things. The tide on the Chien-tang in the eighth moon and the peaks around the West Lake after a snow shower, are they not the most wonderful sights in the world? Yet you gentlemen pay no heed to them, but seek every ink scrap from an old Taoist."

He did not stick to the discipline of the Zen monastery. When old, Jo-fen retired to his native district and built a pavilion by a mountain stream called Yu Chien. He also said, "If the old monk does not himself paint bamboos, who will on the morrow bring tidings of safety and peace?"

He is a somewhat older contemporary of Mu Chi.

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