Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “By the eleventh century, a good hand was one criterion—together with a command of history and literary style—that determined who was recruited into the government through civil service examinations. Those who succeeded came to regard themselves as a new kind of elite, a meritocracy of "scholar-officials" responsible for maintaining the moral and aesthetic standards established by the political and cultural paragons of the past. It was their command of history and its precedents that enabled them to influence current events. It was their interpretations of the past that established the strictures by which an emperor might be constrained. And it was their poetry, diaries, and commentaries that constituted the accounts by which a ruler would one day be judged. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“Scholar-official painters most often worked in ink on paper and chose subjects—bamboo, old trees, rocks—that could be drawn using the same kind of disciplined brush skills required for calligraphy. This immediately distinguished their art from the colorful, illusionistic style of painting preferred by court artists and professionals. Proud of their status as amateurs, they created a new, distinctly personal form of painting in which expressive calligraphic brush lines were the chief means employed to animate their subjects. Another distinguishing feature of what came to be known as scholar-amateur painting is its learned references to the past. The choice of a particular antique style immediately linked a work to the personality and ideals of an earlier painter or calligrapher. Style became a language by which to convey one's beliefs.\^/

“Since scholar-artists employed symbolism, style, and calligraphic brushwork to express their beliefs and feelings, they left the craft of formal portraiture to professional artisans. Such craftsmen might be skilled in capturing an individual's likeness, but they could never hope to convey the deeper aspects of a man's character. Integrating calligraphy, poetry, and painting, scholar-artists for the first time combined the "three perfections" in a single work. In such paintings, poetic and pictorial imagery and energized calligraphic lines work in tandem to express the mind and emotions of the artist. \^/

Zhao Mengfu: the Consummate Chinese Scholar-Painter

Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Zhao Mengfu epitomized the new artistic paradigm of the scholar-amateur. A scholar-official by training, he was also a brilliant calligrapher (1989.363.30) who applied his skill with a brush to painting. Intent on distinguishing his kind of scholar-painting from the work of professional craftsmen, Zhao defined his art by using the verb "to write" rather than "to paint." In so doing, he underscored not only its basis in calligraphy but also the fact that painting was not merely about representation—a point he emphasized in his Twin Pines, Level Distance (1973.120.5) by adding his inscription directly over the landscape. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“Zhao was a consummate scholar, and his choice of subject and painting style was carefully considered. Because the pine tree remains green through the winter, it is a symbol of survival. Because its outstretched boughs offer protection to the lesser trees of the forest, it is an emblem of the princely gentleman. For recluse artists of the tenth century, the pine had signified the moral character of the virtuous man. Zhao, having recently withdrawn from government service under the Mongols, must have chosen to "write" pines in a tenth-century style as a way to express his innermost feelings to a friend. His painting may be read as a double portrait—a depiction of himself and also of the person to whom it was dedicated.\^/

“As the arbiters of history and aesthetic values, scholars had an immense impact on taste. Even emperors came to embrace scholarly ideals. Although some became talented calligraphers and painters (1981.278), more often they recruited artists whose images magnified the virtues of their rule. Both the court professional and the scholar-amateur made use of symbolism, but often to very different ends. While Zhao Mengfu's pines may reflect the artist's determination to preserve his political integrity, a landscape painting by a court painter might be read as the celebration of a well-ordered empire. A scholar-painting of narcissus reflects the artist's identification with the pure fragrance of the flower, a symbol of loyalty, while a court painter's lush depiction of orchids was probably intended to evoke the sensuous pleasures of the harem. The key distinction between scholar-amateur and professional painting is in the realization of the image: through calligraphically abbreviated monochrome drawing on paper or through the highly illusionistic use of mineral pigments on silk.\^/

Banished Chinese Scholar-Officials

Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “When an emperor neglected the advice of his officials, was unjust or immoral, scholar-officials not infrequently resigned from government and chose to live in retirement. Such an action had long been understood as a withdrawal of support, a kind of silent protest in circumstances deemed intolerable. Times of dynastic change were especially fraught, and loyalists of a fallen dynasty usually refused service under a new regime. Scholar-officials were at times also forced out of office, banished as a result of factionalism among those in power. In such cases, the alienated individual might turn to art to express his beliefs. But even when concealed in symbolic language, beliefs could incite reprisals: the eleventh-century official Su Shi, for example, was nearly put to death for writing poems that were deemed seditious. As a result, these men honed their skills in the art of indirection. In their hands, the transcription of a historical text could be transformed into a strident protest against factional politics (1988.363.4), illustrations to a Confucian classic became a stinging indictment of sanctimonious or irresponsible behavior (1996.479). Because of their highly personal nature, such works were almost always dedicated to a close friend or kindred spirit and would have been viewed only by a select circle of likeminded individuals. But since these men acted as both policy makers and the moral conscience of society, their art was highly influential. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Wang Hui: China’s Great 17th Century Landscape Painter

Wang Hui (1632-1717) is the most celebrated painter of late seventeenth-century China. Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: He “played a key role in reinvigorating past traditions of landscape painting and establishing the stylistic foundations for the imperially sponsored art of the Qing court. Drawing upon his protean talent and immense ambition, Wang developed an all-embracing synthesis of historical landscape styles that constituted one of the greatest artistic innovations of late imperial China. Wang's stature was confirmed in 1698, when the emperor bestowed upon him the encomium "Landscapes Clear and Radiant." [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“Wang's landscape art was not based on direct encounters with nature; rather, he sought to achieve a spiritual resonance with an orthodox lineage of great masters while creatively transforming their styles. Engaging in an inventive dialogue with the past, Wang evoked the stylistic personas of earlier masters while making works that were distinctly his own. Wang's paintings not only pay homage to his gifted predecessors but demand to be judged in comparison to them.\^/

“Traditional accounts of Wang present him as a virtual reincarnation of the ancient masters, but in modern times this tribute has not been viewed as a compliment. As revolutionary China increasingly rejected its past and idealized the new, Wang's art was criticized as backward-looking and circumscribed by convention. Some Western scholars adopted the same view, labeling Wang's paintings as "art-historical art" and disparaging him as a mere copyist whose works only restate earlier pictorial ideas. But like a master calligrapher whose writing is a personal synthesis of earlier models, Wang's paintings combine disparate stylistic influences in totally new and inspired ways to make each "performance" spontaneous and fresh. So while his sources are recognizable, his evocations are never dry or stale; they always depart from their model by ingeniously modifying the composition, reworking the structure, and revitalizing the brushwork in ways that are sophisticated and bold. Wang did not merely imitate the past, he reinvented it.” \^/

Wang Hui Inspirations and Mentors

Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Wang Hui was deeply inspired by the vast panoramas and rich descriptive detail of early monumental landscape painting as well as by the more intimate and abstract modes of early literati painting. Thanks to his connections with many of the leading collectors of his day, he was able to study examples of early landscape painting firsthand. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“During his early career, Wang Hui focused his energies on mastering the dynamic compositions and calligraphic brush mannerisms of a select group of fourteenth-century scholar-artists whose expressive reinterpretations of tenth- and eleventh-century models had revolutionized painting. Drawing on the scholar-official aesthetic of the late Northern Song, these Yuan literati artists explored the possibilities of calligraphic abstraction, replacing forms that were essentially representational with forms that were essentially expressive and self-reflective. Early Ming scholar-artists emulated these styles, transforming them into sets of simplified brush conventions. But as the Ming dynasty progressed, these styles became increasingly devoid of expressive meaning. The revitalization of these styles became a primary objective of Wang Hui.\^/

“Under the mentorship of Wang Shimin (1592–1680), Wang Hui was thoroughly versed in the art and theories of Wang Shimin's teacher Dong Qichang (1555–1636). Dong became Wang Shimin's tutor around 1606, and fostered the young man's passion for collecting ancient paintings. Over the next twenty years, Dong passed on many of the finest works from his own collection to Wang Shimin, who became his leading disciple.\^/

“Dong Qichang, who had both the eye of a painter and the knowledge of a connoisseur and collector, formulated a systematic theory of literati painting. According to Dong, the true path to innovation was through correspondence with—and transformation of—the old, thus endowing it with new significance: "Copying [a style] is easy; spiritual communion [with the ancients] is difficult." Complaining that late Ming professional painting had become "sweet, vulgar, fragmented and flat," Dong sought to create a revolutionary theory of artistic renewal or reintegration by reasserting the primacy of calligraphic brushwork and form over descriptive representation: "If one considers the uniqueness of scenery, then a painting is not the equal of real landscape; but if one considers the wonderful excellence of brush and ink, then landscape can never equal painting." \^/

Dong's new "orthodox" theory of landscape art was closely linked to his efforts to reenvision an ancient "true" and "correct" lineage of scholar-amateurs. In his theory of the Northern and Southern Schools of painting, Dong viewed the Tang-dynasty poet and amateur painter Wang Wei (701–761) as the founding "patriarch" of the Southern School. This tradition was developed by the Southern Tang painters Dong Yuan (active 930s–60s) and Juran (active ca. 960–85), who were followed by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) and the Four Late Yuan Masters: Huang Gongwang (1269–1354), Wu Zhen (1280–1354), Ni Zan (1306–1374) and Wang Meng (ca. 1308–1385).\^/

Wang Hui’s Life and the Development of His Style

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “ Born in Yushan (Mount Yu), a village near Changshu, north of Suzhou (modern Jiangsu Province), Wang Hui was a child prodigy whose artistic talents were first recognized at the age of fifteen when he was introduced to the preeminent Orthodox master Wang Shimin. Wang was so impressed by the young man's brilliance that he promptly invited him to study and copy all the ancient masterworks at his family villa in Taicang, where he spent years as a guest and retainer. Throughout the 1660s and 1670s, Wang Hui maintained a close relationship with Wang Shimin, who helped him gain access to many of the finest private collections in the region, but in time these collectors became more important patrons. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“In the early 1660s, Wang concentrated on mastering the calligraphic idioms of the late Yuan masters Huang Gongwang and Wang Meng, in which the kinetic "hemp-fiber" texture strokes are carriers of the "breath-force" movements of the composition. By the late 1660s, however, Wang began to explore the more descriptive idioms of the Song-dynasty masters. Expanding on Dong Qichang's idea of transforming landscapes into calligraphic abstractions, Wang Hui wrote: "I must use the brush and ink of the Yuan to move the peaks and valleys of the Song, and infuse them with the breath-resonance of the Tang. I will then have a work of the Great Synthesis." Searching for his Great Synthesis, Wang Hui also embraced the whole spectrum of painting, from the calligraphic and abstract to the descriptive and decorative.\^/

“In the late 1660s and early 1670s, Wang Hui began to systematically expand his repertoire of ancient styles in order to achieve a Great Synthesis as exemplified in several albums that showcase Wang's creative reinterpretations of a broad range of earlier styles. This is the period when Wang began to explore the potential of the infinitely expandable handscroll format. Wang's The Colors of Mount Taihang, dated 1669, is one of his earliest essays at reviving the monumental style of the tenth and eleventh centuries. In it, Wang successfully reconfigures the towering vertical mountains of the tenth-century master Guan Tong into the horizontal format through the use of thrusting mountain forms and vigorous brushwork that powerfully convey the tectonic forces of nature. \^/

“Wang Hui's approach to painting is analogous to that adopted by calligraphers, who begin by imitating a specific set of earlier models, then gradually expand their repertoire until they are able to incorporate stylistic influences from various masters, eventually arriving at a personal synthesis that is uniquely their own. For Wang Hui, each earlier master was similarly envisioned as a set of "ideographic form-types"—foliage and texture patterns and compositional solutions—that defined that artist's style. The competent replication of these solutions was only the beginning, the ultimate goal being the attainment of what Dong Qichang called a "spiritual correspondence with the model through creative metamorphosis." \^/

Wang Hui's Panoramic Landscapes: "Mountains and Rivers without End"

Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ After the suppression of the Revolt of the Three Feudatories in 1681 and the annexation of Taiwan in 1683, the Kangxi reign (1662–1722) entered a time of peace and prosperity. The Kangxi emperor embarked in 1684 on his first Southern Inspection Tour to consolidate Manchu rule over the south as well as to celebrate the beginning of a new era. Wang Hui responded rapidly to this changed political and cultural environment. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“During the 1680s, Wang Hui undertook to paint ever longer handscrolls in which he successfully integrated varied regional terrain features and landscape styles. Wang also expanded his pictorial repertoire beyond calligraphic brushwork to include more intricately rendered architectural elements and figures and a more naturalistic application of colors and ink washes to suggest the veiling effects of moisture-laden atmosphere.\^/

“In 1684, just months before the Kangxi emperor's first tour to southern China, Wang Hui painted a sixty-foot-long handscroll for the high official Wu Zhengzhi (1618–1691). The painting revives the grand panoramic landscape style of Yan Wengui (active ca. 970–1030), the patriarch of "mountains and rivers without end." More than twice as long as any of Wang's earlier handscrolls, it is very likely that this scroll was intended to demonstrate his ability to assume responsibility for creating a pictorial document of the emperor's sojourn. An invitation to the capital in 1685 from the high-ranking Manchu Singde (1654–1685), who had accompanied the emperor on his first Southern Tour, may well have been intended as a preliminary step toward such a commission. But Singde died shortly before Wang's arrival, so he did not linger in the capital. Nonetheless, the trip led to his forging connections with several powerful court officials, who became major patrons and who were influential in his being selected several years later to create a grand pictorial record of the emperor's 1689 Southern Inspection Tour.\^/

Wang Hui's Copies the Old Masters and Works for the Emperor

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “All students of Chinese calligraphy and painting begin by making careful copies of earlier models. Wang Hui was no different, but his great facility in emulating earlier styles resulted in his being commissioned by collectors to produce a number of close copies of ancient masterpieces. Many of these copies bear Wang's signature and date, showing that he continued to create versions of old master paintings throughout his career. But Wang never made line-for-line replicas of his models. Instead, he enlivened his interpretations with his own vigorous brushwork, giving his copies a vibrant life of their own. It is for this reason that his copies were valued almost as highly as the originals. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“Wang's expressive brushwork and kinesthetically charged compositions also reveal his authorship in unsigned evocations. In the eighteenth century, several of these "copies" entered the Qing imperial collection, where they were mistakenly catalogued as originals. Wang's Landscape after Fan Kuan's Travelers among Streams and Mountains was so enamored by the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95) that he preferred it to the eleventh-century original.\^/

“The emergence of the Manchu regime as a patron of the arts developed slowly. Artistic production was hardly a priority in the first years of the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The imperial workshops had been neglected since late Ming times, and, except for the anonymous artisans who maintained the decoration of the imperial palaces, there was no institutional entity that corresponded to a painting academy. Only in the last decade of the seventeenth century, when the Kangxi emperor commissioned a painting to document his 1689 Southern Inspection Tour, did the arts again rise to prominence in the imperial court.\^/

“In 1691, Wang Hui was summoned to Beijing to create a pictorial document of Kangxi's second Southern Tour. Dividing the emperor's journey into discrete episodes, Wang designed a series of twelve massive handscrolls, each measuring from forty to eighty feet in length (the entire set measures over 740 feet in length). Wang first made a set of full-scale drafts on paper, then enlisted a number of assistants to help with the finished version on silk, with specialists for the landscape, architecture, and the more than 30,000 figures. With the completion of this commission in 1698 (1979.5), the grandest artistic production of the age, the Qing court successfully identified itself with the highest scholarly traditions of Chinese art. “ \^/

Luo Ping, the Ghost Painter

Luo Ping was an 18th century Chinese artist who specialized in rendering ghosts. Yale historian and China expert Jonathan D. Spence wrote: “Luo Ping was not only innovative in “portraying” his ghosts with such specificity, he kept the element of surprise constantly to the fore...In the third section of his Ghost Amusement portrayed an absorbed amorous couple in unmarred human form, gazing into each other's eyes, while a man in the tall white hat of the underworld's guardians prepared to lead the couple into the netherworld. The woman's bared red shoes offered the viewer a signal that was, for the times, shockingly erotic. After four more panels of the magically displayed ghost figures, the eighth and final panel would have come with a startling force to the unprepared viewer---as two complete skeletons were portrayed standing tall and opposite each other in a clump of bare trees, dark rocks, and wild grasses. The precisely delineated specificity of these figures did not convey an auspicious message, but instead closed the scroll on a somber more than a mysterious note.”[Source: Jonathan D. Spence, New York Review of Books, in connection with Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733-1799): an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, October 6, 2009; January 10, 2010]

20111025-Lou Ping ghost paint, nelson-atkins museem of art.jpg
Luo Ping ghost painting
In one series of Luo Ping scrolls he art historian Yeewan Koon wrote: “Half naked with bald pates and small swollen stomachs, the two figures also recall the world of hungry ghosts, one of the Buddhist realms of existence. But the human emotions on the faces of Luo's ghosts place them in a gray consciousness that lurks between the real and the otherworldly. In this painting, Luo has created an ethereal existence by making his ghosts both strikingly familiar, through their human pathos, and evocatively strange,through their physical deformities.

Koon wrote: “The second leaf is a contrast of types: a skinny, bare-chested ghost with an official's hat follows a fat, bald ghost in tattered clothes against an empty background. The oscillation between specificity of types and ambiguity of situation allows room for a range of interpretations; some viewers were prompted to read this scene as phantasmagoric social commentary. [One scholar], for example, a Hanlin academician and playwright, described the figures in leaf 2 as a ‘slave ghost” and his master, whom he then compared to corrupt Confucian officials.

This “urge to rationalize the ghosts as allegories of human behavior,” adds Koon, “is derived in part from the theatrical immediacy of the images,” and in this sense the ghost paintings catch the tensions and contrasts that were coming to dominate this time in China's history---as well as the layers of religious euphoria that lay behind the alternate reading of the scrolls title as a “realm of ghosts,” a literalness of interpretation that Luo Ping deliberately fostered by his repeated claims that he had seen the ghosts in person on many occasions. This claim, writes Koon, was a part of Luo Ping's “invented persona as an artist who saw and painted ghosts,” a persona that ‘set him apart in a capital teeming with talent.”

Life of Luo Ping

20111025-Lou Ping gho.jpg
Luo Ping ghost painting
Spence wrote: “Luo Ping, who lived from 1733 to 1799, was perfectly placed by time and circumstance to view the shifts in fortune that were so prominent in China at that period. He grew up in Yangzhou, a prosperous city on the Grand Canal, just north of the Yangzi River, which linked the capital at Beijing with the prosperous commercial and intellectual hubs of Suzhou and Hangzhou. Yangzhou's strategic location and commercial prominence served it well, and by the time of Luo Ping's birth it” was---the financial center for the salt merchants of coastal and central China, who purchased from the central government the right to sell and transplant salt, and built up colossal private fortunes from this lucrative trade.” [Source: Jonathan D. Spence, New York Review of Books]

“Partly because of the lavish kickbacks that the merchants made to local officials and to the emperor's personal household managers, the city was graced with six visits from Emperor Qianlong, visits that sparked a building boom in order to provide adequately opulent living quarters for the imperial visitor and his entourage. At the same time there were correspondingly lavish expansions of Buddhist temples, decorative waterways, elaborate gardens, and a predictably energized ambience of restaurants, teahouses, and brothels.”

“The city was favored with both imperial patronage and the generosity of the salt merchants---many of whom assembled magnificent libraries and hired renowned local scholars as cultural amanuenses or tutors to their children, so that they might have a chance to pass the imperial examinations. This vibrant intellectual world in its turn attracted other scholars and artists to the region so that Yangzhou became a byword for informed connoisseurship and aesthetic exploration.”

“Luo Ping's father had passed the second level of the state examinations, which was no small feat, and could be achieved only by those with excellent academic training---but he died before Luo Ping was one year old; the most celebrated ancestor Luo could claim was a great-grandmother who was glorified---at least in family lore and reminiscence---for having taken her own life in the fierce siege of 1645. Luo was raised by an uncle, who saw that he got a good education, fostered his skills as a poet, and introduced him to some of the wealthy merchants known for their cultural gatherings. At age nineteen, Luo married a finely educated woman, already celebrated for her literary and artistic skills, with whom he had three children, who also became accomplished poets and painters.”

Luo Ping and His Patron

20111025-Lou Ping portrait of M. Mbamboo Hat, Shanghai musuem.jpg
Luo Ping ghost painting
Spence wrote: “Around 1757 Luo Ping met and became friends with a seventy-year-old widower, Jin Nong, who was living alone in one of the many Buddhist temples in the city. In his prime, Jin had worked variously as an art dealer, calligrapher, and tutor, and had built up a national reputation as a poet and a painter. One of his many specialties was painting plum blossoms, a genre at which Luo and his wife were also skilled. Jin's eyesight was fading, and it was apparently a natural step for the two men to become friends.”[Source: Jonathan D. Spence, New York Review of Books]

“Jin was often behind with a backlog of orders for painted scrolls and calligraphy, and for Buddhist devotional art (another of his specialties). It was in tune with the spirit of the times to take on more than one could accomplish, and it was natural for Jin to turn to Luo Ping for help, as he did to various other young students or assistants. One unanticipated consequence was that Jin was more than just a teacher and mentor to Luo---he became a friend of the family, and often visited Luo and his wife, staying sometimes at their residence in Yangzhou for days or even weeks. Some Yangzhou artists and scholars chided Jin Nong for exploiting his young assistants as ‘substitute brushes” or “ghost painters,” saying that the practice showed his “laziness” and indicated that he was “taking advantage of his pupils for the sake of profits.”

By chance, one of Jin Nong's letters to Luo Ping has survived, giving quite precise details about what the older man was seeking from his ghost painter: “Paint a vermilion bamboo with bright pigment. To be excellent, it must be luxurious and fresh with an antique flavor. Leave more empty space so that I can easily inscribe it. Paint another one: an ink bamboo using the other one as a model, but don't do anything too surprising. For the ink bamboo, half a teacup of ink should be enough.”

“In another letter we see Jin Nong giving even tighter guidelines. The ghost painter must leave adequate space next to the two Buddhist figures, writes Jin, for “if the inscription is too small, it will be unsatisfactory.” “Tomorrow morning I will send paper for the ink bamboo,” adds Jin, “along with some prepared ink.” In the closing lines of this letter he writes, “If you will again paint for me, I will choose some excellent objects to present in exchange,” and he closes quietly, “Letter written by lamplight on the 27th.”

Luo Ping Achieves Fame as Ghost Painter

Luo Ping ghost painting
“By the early 1780s,” Spence wrote, “We can find nationally known Chinese scholars singling out three of Luo Ping's paintings for special praise” including a “work identified as Ghost Amusement. This alerts us to the other side of Luo Ping's labors as a ghost painter, namely that of being a painter of ghosts, for it was as a painter of ghostly images that Luo achieved his final leap into the ranks of upper-literati society. This quest led Beijing, where prestigious officials were gathered in the greatest numbers and the chances for preferment beckoned. He carried the Ghost Amusement scroll with him. “This was a bold and perhaps almost unprecedented experiment, which carried within it a way of confronting the dangers of the unknown and probing the meanings of the underworld through his own vision of the ghost worlds that for most of us are never revealed or comprehended. The painting may have been originally conceived as a series of individual leaves, and the first identifiable colophon---or attached brief statement---from an influential scholar to whom Luo showed the initial ghost images can be dated to 1766. But in Beijing, as Luo learned to make his way and expand his contacts, success followed fast: nine new colophons were added to his scroll in 1772, four more in 1773, one in 1774, a steady scattering in the later 1770s and 1780s, and a further torrent in Luo's final years, with six in 1790 and seven in 1791]

From 1790 onward Luo lived mainly in Beijing, often with his two sons, who seem to have been successful painters. He remained busy and active into the 1790s and, among numerous commissions and social events, found time in 1797 to create a second version of his Ghost Amusement scroll, similar in main outline to the original version from the 1760s but with a different---though still Western---version of a skeleton in the final panel...Luo Ping died in 1799, but the tokens of respect for his ghost images continued in written form throughout the nineteenth century.” Sometime after his death, an art connoisseur wrote on the same portrait scroll in an undated colophon that Luo had been a “completely original painter of Buddhist figures, Daoist immortals, and ghosts,” and added that Luo had been “a man of exceptional creativity” who was “never muddled” and “painted with a limpid lucidity.” The colophon writer added that “before reaching old age [Luo] withered away and died.”

Image Sources: Luo Ping ghost painting from the Met in New York, Nelson-Atking Museum, Ressel Fok collection, Shanghai Museum

Text Sources: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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