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Puguang [P’u-kuang] (active early 14th century)

“Searching for Plum Blossoms”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
138.0 x 73.5 cm. (54 1/4 x 29 in.)

Artist’s seal:

(see write up below)

An interpolated inscription reading Meng-fu hsieh, purportedly the signature of Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322), was removed during remounting. The Hsueh-an seal of P’u-kuang, placed in the upper right corner, is legible under infra-red light.

P’u-kuang was born in Ta-t’ung, Shansi province, into the Li family. His name after becoming a priest was P’u-kuang, “All-encompassing Illumination,” his tzu was Hsuan-hui, “Abstruse Obscurity,” and his hao Hsueh-an, “Snowy Hut.” Already during his early years P’u-kuang had become known for his poetry, calligraphy, as well as painting, and it was those talents that brought him to the fore in Beijing after the establishment of the Yuan dynasty in 1279.

It is reported that the writing style of a wine-shop sign written by Pu-kuang caught the eye of the famous official and artist Chao Meng-fu, who after studying it for a long while, commented: “It is said that no other calligrapher of today comes up to me but this writing surpasses mine.” Pu-kuang was then recommended for court service by Chao and rose to become head of the Dhuta sect of Buddhism and an academician in the Chao-wen Academy. P’u-kuang’s position in the Academy made obvious use of his writing skills, and all the building signs used throughout the Forbidden City at that time were said to have been written by this imperially-favored calligrapher.

Although very few of P’u-kuang’s paintings have survived to modern times, the nature of some of his landscape paintings is indicated by the recorded titles of some of them. The images evoked by those titles are largely related to the northern landscape styles emanating from such early Sung masters as Li Ch’eng, Kuo Hsi, Fan K’uan, and Li T’ang, and those are of course the styles that had remained in fashion in the north during the Chin dynasty under which P’u-kuang was born.

The extensive use of the reserve technique, allowing the natural color of the unpainted silk to stand for snow-covered forms, is common in Yuan paintings, even those by such literati masters as Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354). Comparison of the present painting with those by Tai Chin (1388-1462) suggests that Yuan paintings by such conservative masters as P’u-kuang formed part of the stylistic context out of which emerged the Ming dynasty Che School. P’u-kuang’s painting is thus historically significant as well as pleasing in its own terms, manifesting both the naturalistic intent of Sung masters as well as the more formal concerns of Yuan and later artists.

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