Orchids and Cabbage, Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots

Catalogue 25

Li Shan (1686-1756)
Orchids and Cabbage, Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots
Early Qing dynasty
Framed album, ink on paper, 16.5 x 19.75 in.

Li Shan was born in Xinghua, Jiangsu province, to a family of prominent officials. He was well educated in poetry and calligraphy. In 1711 Li Shan passed the second-level examination. On the occasion of the Kangxi emperor's (r. 1662-1723) sixtieth birthday in 1714, Li Shan submitted a poem for imperial inspection. The poem received favor, and Li Shan was appointed to the Imperial Study, where he wrote poems for and had direct exposure to the emperor himself. While in Beijing, Li Shan studied painting first with Jiang Tingyi (1669-1732, cat. 22) and eventually with Gao Qipei (1672-1734, cat. 23). In 1722 soon after the death of the Kangxi emperor, Li Shan was dismissed and moved to Yangzhou. In Yangzhou, he befriended Zheng Xie (1693-1765) and later Huang Shen (b. 1687), all three of whom later became part of the "Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou" (Yangzhou baguai). Li Shan once again held an official position in Shandong province from 1736 to 1740, but unsatisfied with the job, he returned to Yangzhou. Li Shan's painting style provided an important precedent for the nineteenth-century Shanghai painters Zhao Zhiqian (1829-84) and Ren Xun (1835-93, cat. 28).

Although undated, this painting can be placed late in Li Shan's career as the signature on the orchid painting ends with "made by" (zhi), rather than the "written by" (xie) typically inscribed on earlier paintings. Both paintings seem to have been done quickly to satisfy a commission, and both paintings have a heptasyllabic quatrain poem done in Li Shan's typical style. The painting of orchids also has an interesting visual composition typical of the Eight Eccentrics. The calligraphy and orchids are given equal visual weight in the picture.