This “Snow Landscape” is characterized by sharp contrasts of light and dark, by a composition that exists mainly in the picture plane, with little spatial recession, and by extremely active and expressionistic brushwork. The 20th century artist who created this very attractive image is said to have followed such Sung masters as Hsia Kuei (early 13th century) but in fact his approach is far closer to that of Tai Chin of the Ming dynasty (fig.1). Already in Tai’s work brushwork had begun to assume preeminence over verisimilitude, and that is even more true in the case of the present work, by P’u-ju. In the later painting brushwork is clearly the most important element, activating the natural forms while yet providing a stable environment for the travellers on the foreground bridge and the various structures placed in the middle and far ground. All in all, the work is a masterful demonstration of how the past could be made to serve the present, how traditional styles could be transformed into a new vision.
P’u-ju was a Manchu born into the Ch’ing imperial family on the verge of its demise, the grandson of Prince Kung. His cousin, P’u-i (1906-1967) was appointed emperor on the death of their uncle, Tsai-t’ien (1871-1908). P’u-i reigned as the Hsuan-tsung emperor for only three years, from 1909 to 1912, when his father, the regent appointed by Empress Tz’u-hsi, and his foster mother decided that he should abdicate in favor of a republican form of government; this act brought the 268-year-old Ch’ing dynasty of the Manchus to an end, earning for P’u-i the sobriquet of “The Last Emperor.”
On the fall of his dynasty, P’u-ju changed his name to Pu Hsin-yu. When Chiang Kai-shek realized that he could not hold the mainland, and removed in 1949 to the island of Taiwan, P’u-ju was one of the stalwarts who accompanied him. Already in 1947 P’u-ju had been appointed by Chiang Kai-shek as Manchu representative to the Constitutional National Assembly, and in Taiwan he continued to support the regime of Chiang Kai-shek, being rewarded with a house, on Hsin-i Lu; in 1949 he was appointed Professor in the Fine Arts Department of the National Taiwan Normal University. In 1959 an exhibition was held of 318 of his works in the National Museum of History. P’u-ju died in 1963 and was buried in the Yang-ming-shan cemetery, just down the mountain from the private retreat of Chiang Kai-shek.
Fig. 1: Tai Chin: “Winter Landscape,” Minshin no Kaiga, Tokyo, 1964, cat. 2.