The Lingnan School

Fig. 3. Signatures on bonles painted by C~en Quan. 'J'~i 4~ li. l". ~j( d. ~~1 ~K. it- ~ % ~ P. !tJ + between the two, The other seal reads Rongma shusheng (Soldier– scholar). In a culture which trained its elite to be generalists rather lhan specialists, it was not uncommon for . the literati to act also as military men. The underlying principle was that once a man had acquired the in– ner spiritual qualities of a Confucian gentleman, he might turn his hand to any number of specific tasks with equal ease and efficiency. Clearly Chen Quan had served as a military commander of some sort during his official career Although these two seals appear only on the colophon to the long handscroll, the signa– tures Chen Quan and Qiuyan appear on a small series of early inside– painted snuff bottles. They are suffi· ciently similar in medium, style, content, and feeling to Gan Xuan– wen's output to suggest a close rela– tiOnship between the two men, even without the further evidence of their friendship suggested by the colo· phon to the handscrolL One further name, Hengsan, is in· scribed on a single snuff bonle and appears to be another of Chen Quan:S art names. The complete list of the names we might expect to find on his paintings, therefore, is as follows (fig, 3, a-e): Chen Quan-the artist's proper name (a). Qiuyan (Autumn cliff)-an as– sumed name, which appears on the known snuff bottles in an alternative short form (b), But in the seal on the handscroll 5 is written as a seal script version of the longer form of the same charac– ter (c). Hengsan-a third assumed name (d). ]iufeng (Nine Peaks)-the artist's place of origin (e). Apart from these, the further hac (assumed name) Rongma Shusheng (Soldier-scholar) may be expected to turn up on any further paintings that come to light, as may the seal Qiuyan, Chen Quan zhizhang (both of which are illustrated in fig– ure 2) but not on a bottle; the ear– lier school of snuff bottle interior painterS tended, for practical rea– sons, to keep seals very simple, often fulfilling the formal role of red seals as an addition to calligra. phy and paintings without any at· tempt at legibility. Chen Quan's acquaintance with Gan Xuanwen seems assured, for he would otl1erwise have been unlikely to borrow Gan's handscroll or add a laudatory inscription. He is also a fellow Lingnan literatus, although neither seems to have been a major figure in the broader context of Chi· nese art Neither is listed in the various biographical dictionaries of Chinese painters, poets, seal-carvers, and calligraphers. They even seem to have faded from the cultural memory of Guangdong province, for they are also conspicuous by their absence from a three-volume bio· graphical dictionary of leading Guangdong literati published in 1941. Only recently, in 1986, was Gan Xuanwen included in a biographical dictionary, in direct recogrtition of the long handscrolL I published this entry previously.3 For each painter, it is t11e body of snuff bonles that may save an otherwise minor literati art– ist from relative obscurity. However, what is minor in the broader con· text of Chinese painting is far from minor in snuff bottle terms, The fi rst florescence of the art of inside·painted snuff bottles was clearly literati in origin, style, feel– ing, intention, and depth, and t11e better artists represent high art for the snuff bottle enthusiast An excel– lent example of this shift in status between different media may be