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Kao Shu-ch’eng (second half 18th century)

“Red Blossoming Plum”

Fan painting, ink and color on paper
15.4 x 49.2 cm. (6 x 19 3/8 in.)

Colophon on painting:
“This was painted by my friend Master Kao Mai-an. At Master Yao’s Yu-ling-lung Mountain Cottage I once saw a large scroll of ‘Red Blossoming Plums’ by Old Shih. Wanting in fragrance, the several dots and thin shadows were not the equal of this work, which captures their conception. Recorded by T’ieh-sheng (Hsi Kang, 1746-1803).” Seal: T’ieh-sheng

Colophon mounted above painting:
“This work was painted by Kao Mai-an and inscribed by Hsi T’ieh-sheng (Hsi Kang). In chapter five of the Mo-lin Chin-hua, it says that Instructor Kao Mai-an from Hangchou was named Shu-ch’eng, with tzu of Ch’i-yu; he called himself Yen-lo-tzu. In the year 1777 during the Ch’ien-lung reign-era he became a Tribute Student by Purchase. He was good at writing poetry and essays and excelled in painting landscapes. Mo-hsiang says that he captured the methods of the two (Yuan) masters Tzu-chiu (Huang Kung-wang) and Shan-ch’iao (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 Tung Ssu-weng (Tung Ch’i-ch’ang). T’ieh-sheng wrote of Tung’s ‘Mountain Colors of Yen 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 Hangchou say that Yen-lo-tzu had a lofty and noble character and thus his paintings have an antique flavor. When I recently got this small work and saw T’ieh-sheng’s comparison and evaluation, I knew Kao was also skilled at flowers. I once saw his fan painting of a ‘Flowering Crabapple’ which had a conception close to that of Hsin-lo (Hua Yen). His calligraphy style was based on those of Chao (Meng- fu), Tung (Ch’i-ch’ang) and master Lu-t’ai (Wang Yuan-ch’i). He is also praised for his poetry in which he studied Ch’ang-ku (Li Ho) and was able to evoke his antique taste.”

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.

The painting is not signed by the artist, Kao Shu-ch’eng, but he is identified as the painter by his close friend, Hsi Kang (1746-1803). Kao’s earliest known work, “Bamboo, Rock, and Iris,” was done together with Hsi Kang in 1794. The two collaborated again in 1798, along with Huang I.

The present painting was later owned by Chiang Pao-ling and mentioned in his Mo-lin Chin-hua, the preface of which is dated to 1864 although it was not published until 1880. The only known dates for the life of Kao Shu-ch’eng are 1777, when he became a Tribute Student by Purchase, which entitled him to compete in the Provincial Examinations, although there is no record that he ever did so, and paintings dated 1794, 1795, and 1798. It thus can be suggested that Kao lived mainly during the second half of the eighteenth century.

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