T’ao Ch’ien (365-427), better known by his earlier name of T’ao Yuan-ming, served as magistrate of P’eng-tse in Kiangsi province. However, after only 83 days at the post, unwilling to ‘crook the hinges of his back for five pecks of rice a day’ in paying obeisance to his superiors, T’ao resigned and spent the remainder of his life writing poetry, playing music, and cultivating chrysanthemums. In the present painting T’ao is shown living in seclusion, with rustic hut and garden enclosed by a woven fence and his beloved flowers.
Yang Chin, tzu Tzu-hao, hao Hsi-t’ing, Hao Tao-jen (‘Crane Taoist’), and Yeh-hao (‘Crane of the Wilderness’), was from Ch’ang-shu in Kiangsu province. Born in the same neighborhood but twelve years later than Wang Hui (1632-1717), Yang assisted and collaborated with the older artist for over forty years, often supplying the figures, architecture, animals and other pictorial accoutrements to landscapes painted by Wang. Yang Chin seems in fact to have shared in the most momentous artistic events of Wang’s life. Wang Hui is known to have studied with Wang Chien (1598-1677), and Yang Chin’s earliest recorded painting is a portrait of the elder master with landscape setting provided by Wang Hui. Around the year 1690 Wang Hui was invited to Peking and given an imperial commission to paint the Nan-hsun T’u, a pictorial record of the K’ang- hsi emperor’s progress through the southern provinces of China. Among the ten or so disciples who assisted Wang Hui on the project was Yang Chin, who was also permitted to view and copy some of the masterworks held then in the imperial collection.
Following those enriching experiences the two artists returned to Ch’ang-shu where they continued to work together until the very end of Wang’s life. Yang Chin outlived his close friend by thirteen years, a period during which he continued to paint but most often with much less ambition than earlier. The present painting was done in 1715, when Wang was still alive, and especially the style of the distant mountains recalls that of the elder master while the figure, flowers, and tree manifest the high technical expertise and individual style of Yang Chin.