Landscapes and trees

Artist: Gong Xian (Chinese, 1619–1689)

Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)

Date: ca. 1679

Culture: China

Medium: Album of twelve leaves; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image (each leaf): 6 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. (15.9 x 19.1 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: From the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection, Gift of Wen and Constance Fong, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Dillon, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.499a–l


By the mid-1670s Gong Xian’s confidence as a painter had taught him to avoid an overly skillful or popular style. He wrote:

“Nowadays when people paint they do only what appeals to the common eye; I alone do not seek to please the present.”

In this album, both paintings and inscriptions attest to Gong’s striving after a spiritual communion with earlier masters while creating a pictorial vocabulary all his own. Departing from his densely textured, monumental landscape style of the 1660s, Gong moved toward a sparser manner in which each brushstroke is made to function calligraphically as well as descriptively, embodying both expressive and representational meaning. The album’s format—paintings accompanied by art-historical comments—reminds us that Gong Xian taught painting for a living.