Painting, hanging scroll, ink / wood / paper / cotton, painted by Pu Shirui in the style of Tang Yin, China, 1700-1800
Hedda Hammer Morrison (1908-1991) is a noted German-Australian photographer who made a significant contribution to the understanding of the Chinese people through photographs taken during her years of residence in Peking (present day Beijing, then known as Beiping or Northern Peace) from 1933 to 1946.
The Powerhouse Museum holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of Hedda Morrison photographs and research material in Australia. The collection includes personal papers, memorabilia and objects collected by Hedda and Alastair Morrison and donated to the Museum by Alastair in the years following his wife's death.
Chinese calligraphy and brush and ink painting are regarded as the most important of the scholarly arts. Landscape painting is regarded as the pinnacle of all modes of painting primarily because through the act of painting the artist sought to emulate the rhythm of the cosmos. Landscape painting is the painting of mountains and water (shan shui) and this work is a fine example of the scholarly art. It features an idealised landscape with a towering mountain, cascading waterfall and the dwelling of a scholar recluse who is seated at a low table painting or writing calligraphy, with two attendants in a nearby hut. The inscription indicates that it was painted by Pu Shirui in the style of Tang Yin (1470-1523), whose artist name was Liuru jushi. The beautifully executed painting displays accomplished brushwork making it a fine example of Chinese landscape painting dating from the Qing Dynasty. Copying works by esteemed earlier masters was an important part of the training of an artist and their on-going practice. Copies marked an artist's veneration of an admired master. Tang Yin, born in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, was an important scholar, painter and poet of the Ming dynasty.
Mountains and water represented the two opposite but complementary forces of nature, yang and yin respectively. Through the depiction of landscape (mountains and water) artists sought to represent an ideal world, far away from the cares of the city and the capital, where life could be lived in harmony. Human beings are small in scale in comparison to the mountains representing their place within the cosmic order. The scholar-recluse in his simple dwelling with thatched roof and rustic fence within a large landscape setting is an often-depicted subject in literati painting. In the foreground are three entwined pine trees, symbolic of longevity and steadfastness as it can withstand the cold and remains evergreen.
This hanging scroll was given to Hedda by Jean-Pierre Dubosc, a French born diplomat, collector and dealer who lived in Peking. After her contract at Hartungs expired, Hedda Hammer was invited to live in the courtyard of the large residence of Jean Pierre-Dubosc and his wife Janine. Hedda and Dubosc were good friends. According to Alastair, it was a large rambling house in the west of Beiping and Dubosc was keen to have another woman there to keep his young wife company. Janine Dubosc was the daughter of C. T. Loo, an influential dealer in Chinese art based in Paris. According to Alastair Morrison, Chinese art dealers often came to the house with items on offer to Dubosc. This hanging scroll is said to have been given to Hedda following one such occasion.
After the outbreak of war, Dubosc and his wife moved out of the compound. The landlord was Chungking, so Hedda continued to live there alone and look after the house. They were part of the small contingent of interesting expatriates living in Beiping between the wars. Dubosc was a highly regarded collector and dealer. In the late 1940s he, like most expatriates was forced to leave Beiping. He returned to Europe and gradually sold off the large collection of Ming and Qing Chinese paintings that he had amassed. Hedda was particularly interested in traditional crafts and took many photographs of artisans at work preserving on film, China's rich cultural heritage, which even then was fast disappearing. Painters and scroll mounters are among the arts practitioners represented in Hedda's photographs, providing added context to the acquisition of this painting.
Chinese painting skills were acquired through years of practice writing Chinese characters and also learning the particular stroke configurations used in painting known as type forms. Chinese painting was divided into the broad disciplines of landscape, bird and flower and figure painting. Landscape painting was regarded as the most difficult. Painting and calligraphy use the same materials - brush and ink and can be applied to paper or silk. Painting draws on the art of calligraphy and a painter is expected to be a scholar well versed in poetry and classical allusions, history and the history of art. Artists also carved seals, which carry the artists name or a studio name.
Chinese landscape paintings present a moving perspective based on the idea of three distances: near, middle and far. This encourages the eye to move between the various pictorial elements instead of focusing on a fixed point of view. In reading the painting the viewers eye is taken on a journey of discovery, often following a zig-zag path through the painting that is structured by the placement of visual elements.
The red stamps, called seals, are the Chinese characters incised or cut into stone or sometimes ivory that are pressed into red seal paste and affixed to the surface of the painting. Seals are marks of the painter or owner or subsequent collectors. Artist seals are most often placed after the inscription. There may be one or a number of seals, which may include the artists studio name or other names by which they were known. This scroll painting has three seals. Often, seals placed in the lower right or left of the painting were placed there to give formal balance to the painting.
The colour pigments used are extracted from minerals or vegetables and mixed with a binding agent such as alum.
The inscriptions are read in vertical lines beginning top right and working down and then from right to left.
The inscription on the painting in large characters reads:
"Shan jing si tai gu, ri chang ru xiao nian". This may be translated as
The mountains are so tranquil that it feels like ancient times,
The sunshine seems to extend for the whole year
Inscription in smaller characters:
"Gui si sui, miaomo Liuru jushi, Pu Shirui" which may be translated as Pu Shirui, copied from a work by Liuru jushi (Tang Yin) in the Gui si year.
Gui si year is a year within the 60 year cycle of traditional Chinese dating. Once the dates of the artist Pu Shirui can be determined it will be possible to date this work accurately.
A number of Chinese artist dictionaries have been consulted but the dates of the artist Pu Shirui have not been ascertained.
The painting was given to Hedda Hammer Morrison by Jean-Pierre Dubosc, the French diplomat, collector and dealer, after Hedda took up residence in the rambling courtyard house lived in by he and his young wife Janine Dubosc. Hedda lived in the Dubosc courtyard in the west of the city from 1938. The painting was donated to the Museum by her husband, Alastair Morrison.