Wang Xizhi Watching Geese
The painting I chose to research is titled “Wang Xizhi Watching Geese” painted by the scholar official Qian Xuan. This handscroll illustration was made during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) and its country of origin is China.[footnoteRef:1] Its painter, Qian Xuan, was a scholar official under the Song dynasty. However, after the Song Dynasty had fallen in 1276 after its capital of Hangzhou was taken by the Mongols during the Mongol conquest of China, he had decided on becoming a “yimin,” which is a leftover subject of a fallen dynasty.1,[footnoteRef:2] Qian Xuan was a very loyal subject and had become a scholar-official when the Song dynasty was still at large due to the dynasty’s rejection of the idea of a monarchy and institution of a meritocracy under which any subject could become a scholar-official if they had passed an extensive exam that covered various subjects such as writing, painting, or calligraphy.[footnoteRef:3],[footnoteRef:4] During the time of Qian Xuan, scholar officials such as himself had changed painting into more of an expressive art and had used it to express their beliefs and to improve their own individual skills, rather than pandering the painting to a more public audience.[footnoteRef:5] Furthermore, many artists like Qian Xuan had bettered their talents in the art of indirection, since certain beliefs could get someone killed. This is why without knowing an artist’s background or the contextual history of their time, would make it difficult to grasp an artist’s true meaning.4 In such a case, a painting to a viewer could just be pretty, when in actuality, there is something deeper hidden within. [1: “Wang Xizhi Watching Geese.”] [2: Department of Asian Art. “Landscape Painting in Chinese Art.”] [3: Delbanco, Dawn. “Chinese Calligraphy.”] [4: Hearn, Maxwell. “Chinese Painting.”] [5: “#7460. Wang Xizhi Watching Geese, Part 2.”]
The subject of “Wang Xizhi Watching Geese” is Wang Xizhi and his young attendant standing in a pavilion, reflectively looking out at a scene of a wide river and mountain peaks behind it in the distance, while two long-necked geese glide across the river within their view.[footnoteRef:6] Wang Xizhi in particular is a well-known master of calligraphy and had practiced Daoist alchemy.4,1 He was said to have drawn inspiration from natural forms; namely the graceful movements of geese.1 Often, landscape paintings such as this one would express the social, political, or religious beliefs of its painter. In this landscape painting’s case, Qian Xuan’s reaction to the fall of the Song royal house is expressed. It was a feeling of disconnection conveyed through how the painting is a “dreamlike evocation of antiquity.”1 He misses the past and longs for it. This could be symbolized by how the ancient master Wang Xizhi looks reflectively into the distance at his old inspiration of geese, plausibly longing for it, much like Qian Xuan longs for a time when...