Two branches of blossoming plum arc across the surface of the fan. Touches of ink model the branches and create some sense of three- dimensionality. Color is very important here and serves not only to identify the type of plum but also to add a most pleasing decorative flavor, to the advantage and delight of its privileged owner.
The fan is not signed but Gao is identified in the inscription as the painter by his close friend, Xi Gang (1746-1803). In fact, Gao’s earliest known work, “Bamboo, Rock, and Iris,” was done together with Xi Gang in 1794. The two collaborated again in 1798, along with a third artist. Huang Yi. The only known dates for the life of Gao, aside from paintings dated to 1794, 1795, and 1798, is the year in which he became a Tribute Student by Purchase, that is 1777, which entitled him to compete in the Provincial Examinations, although there is no record that he ever did so.
The present fan was later owned by Jiang Baoling and mentioned in his Molin Jinhua, the preface of which is dated to 1864 and published in 1880, and referred to in the colophon mounted above the painting:
“This work was painted by Gao Mai’an and inscribed by Xi Tiesheng (Xi Gang). In chapter five of the Molin Jinhua, it says that Instructor Gao Mai’an from Hangzhou was named Shucheng, with zi Gao Mai’an He called himself Yanlezi. In the year 1777 during the Qianlong reign era, he became a Tribute Student by Purchase. He was good at writing poetry and essays and excelled in painting landscapes. Moxiang says that he captured the methods of the two (Yuan) masters Zijiu (Huang Gongwang) and Shanqiao (Wang Meng). I once saw a small work of his in which the brush and ink were beautiful and flowing and the conception expunged the ordinary and approached that of Dong Siweng (Dong Qichang). Ssu-weng Tiesheng wrote of Dong’s ‘Mountain Colors of Yan River’ that the arrangement there marvelously explained that everything between light and dark must set forth purity. My friend Mai’an understands this completely and when using wash or manipulating the brush his touch is light. I have heard it said that the people of Hangzhou say that Yanlezi had a lofty and noble character and thus his paintings have an antique flavor. When I recently got this small work and saw Tiesheng’s comparison and evaluation, I knew Gao was also skilled at flowers. I once saw his fan painting of a ‘Flowering Crabapple’ which had a conception close to that of Xinle (Hua Yan). His calligraphy style was based on those of Zhao (Mengfu), Tung (Qichang) and master Lutai (Wang Yuanqi). He is also praised for his poetry in which he studied Changgu (Li He) and was able to evoke his antique taste.”