Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Michael Sullivan: A Life of Art and Friendship

(from 11th Mar until 14th Sep 2014)

A commemorative exhibition in memory of Michael Sullivan, leading scholar of Chinese art.

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Figure of a lady reading a poem

  • loan
  • Description

    As one of the most important figures in 20th century Chinese art, Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) was a master of an astonishing range of styles and techniques. His reputation rests not only on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese artistic traditions and his remarkable technical skill, but also for the volume of his work and his ability to produce paintings that were often huge in scale and conception. Even in his later years he was bold in his use of ink and colour.

    It was in west China during the Second World War (1939-1945) that Michael Sullivan (1916-2013) and Zhang Daqian met and became lifelong friends. This painting together with the inscription at the top, were completed in 1935. The inscription includes a ci poem by the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) author Xin Qiji (1140-1207) which ends in ‘Jiaxuan’s ci poetry in the tunes of Manjianghong”. The image here illustrates the poem, which describes a lady reading a letter from her lover and missing him. This work was painted when Zhang was following the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) style and techniques. He was also influenced by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) artists such as Tang Yin (1470-1524), Chen Hongshou (1768-1822), and Gai Qi (1774-1829). The painting was first acquired by Geoffrey Hedley (died 1958) who then bequeathed it to Khoan (1919-2003) and Michael in 1960. Zhang saw this painting again in Michael’s house at Stanford in 1967 and dedicated the inscription on the right to him, commemorating their friendship through years of wars and social changes. The inscription reads ‘This painting was done when I was 36 years old and licing in the Tingli pavilion on Kunming Lake. My old friend Michael acquired this painting in Chengdu nearly 20 years ago. [Now he] brought this painting and showed it to me again. Life has been full of uncertainty and social upheaval. I cannot help but sigh with emotion even at this moment of our happy reunion. [Inscribed] in the seventh month of a dingwei year [1967] when in California together [with Michael] by Daqian Jushi, who is nearly 68 years old.’ This inscription shows that Zhang mistakenly thought that Michael had acquired the painting early in the 1940s in Chengdu.

  • Details

    Associated place
    AsiaChinaHebei province Beijing (place of creation)
    painting 1935
    inscription 1967
    Zhang Daqian (1899 - 1983) (artist)
    Zhang Daqian (1899 - 1983) (calligrapher)
    after Xin Qiji (1140 - 1207) (author)
    Associated people
    Michael Sullivan (1916 - 2013) (recipient)
    Material and technique
    ink on paper
    mount 78.4 cm (width)
    painting 170 x 64.3 cm (height x width)
    along roller 89 cm (length)
    Material index
    Technique index
    Object type index
    No. of items
    Credit line
    On loan from the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection.
    Accession no.
  • Further reading

    Sullivan, Michael, Modern Chinese Art: The Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection, revised edn (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2009), no. 148 on p. 151, illus. p. 151 fig. II.148

Past Exhibition

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    • currently in research collection

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Objects from past exhibitions may have now returned to our stores or a lender. Click into an individual object record to confirm whether or not an object is currently on display. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis, so please contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular Eastern Art object.

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