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Po Hao-nien (late 19th-early 20th century) 白鶴年

‘Squirrels and Grapevine’ 1906

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper
106.7 x 51.8 cm. (42 x 20 3/8 in.)

‘Cultivate and nourish your heart, honor the earth and you will be fully grown. Young roots that associate with the enlightened will in that way repent and subsequently bear marvelous fruit. Those who know this satisfaction may seek a substitute but who would know? During the second ten days of the sixth lunar month, summer of the thirty-second year of the Kuang-hsu reign-era (1906), I followed Pai-yun Wai-shih (Yun Shou-p’ing) in painting this ‘Age One-hundred’ picture beneath the south window of the Te-ts’ui Mountain Lodge in Old Peking. Pao Hao-nien from Ch’ang-li in the Kingdom of the Ch’ing.’

Artist’s seals:
Pan-mou mei-nan; Hsueh-yeh shu-ts’ui yin; E-shan ku-yu yu-yu; Tzu-ho; Ning-k’o jen fu wo, wo pu fu jen (‘I’d rather that people fail me than I fail them’)

(See writeup below.)

Shooting upwards with the force and torsion of a released spring, the stem of a grape vine sweeps across the surface of the paper, leaves and bunches of hanging fruit serving to punctuate the movement, to eventually slow and stop the flow at the top of the picture. Two squirrels ride the stem as they pick and choose among the sweet ripened grapes. Presenting an intriguing contrast between the muscular and fluent strokes of the vine and the delicate detail of the leaves, the artist further distinguished his work by writing his inscription in the center of the picture, destroying any lingering doubt that his main intent was to demonstrate his skill with the brush rather than to present some charming corner of nature (although in fact he does that rather nicely as well).

The artist, an otherwise unknown man named Po Hao-nien, identifies himself as from Ch’ang-li, which was located in the Chih-li district of northern China not far from the capital of Peking. It is not clear from the inscription if the artist was in China at the time, in the area of the former Yuan dynasty capital known in early Ming times as Pei-p’ing or ‘Northern Peace,’ or in a district in Japan called Furukitadaira, written with the same characters but with Japanese pronunciation. In any case, the recipient of a closely related painting was certainly Japanese, and Po Hao-nien’s declaration that he was a citizen of the Ch’ing Kingdom indicates clearly that he knew his painting was destined to be viewed and appreciated not in China but abroad. All three of his known paintings were found in Japan.

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