Figure painting boomed in the Tang
Dynasty (618-970) with an obvious tendency towards depicting real life, later
maturing in the Five Dynasties period (907-960). Painters of that period
emphasized real life in a realistic style, which is why many figure paintings
were essentially portraits, painted in an elaborate style. Painters from the
Southern Tang (937-975) Painting Academy, such as Gu Hongzhong, Zhou Wenju, Wang
Qihan and Wei Xian, were known for their realistic-style figure paintings.
The Han Xizai at Night Dinner Painting by Gu Hongzhong was the best
representative portrait painting of the Five Dynasties period.
A native of Beihai (today's
Weifang City, Shandong
Province), Han Xizai ranked high in the imperial examinations as a youth. Later,
war forced Han to move south where natural and productive conditions were much
better and where many officials kept singing girls at their homes. Han was very
talented in both politics and art, and he was accomplished in music, singing and
dancing, poetry, calligraphy, as well as painting. In fact, his talents were so
boundless that the emperor of the Southern Tang wanted to nominate him as prime
minister, but Han declined. Han would rather indulge himself in drinking and
dancing than follow the ways of corrupt officialdom. The emperor was very
curious and sent the famous painter Gu Hongzhong to pry into Han's private life.
After delivering his report, Gu painted Han Xizai at Night Dinner
The painting, at 333.5 cm long and 28.7 cm
wide, displays five scenes in one: the Pipa performance, dancing people,
musical concert, resting place and departing guests. The skillfully created
painting employed screens and instruments to connect and separate different
sections. In each of the five episodes, Han plays the main actor. The picture
depicts Han's psychology: having no trust in the emperor, he had no choice but
to indulge himself in entertainment to escape worry.
Han Xizai at Night Dinner
Painting was not only a painting about personal
life, but also represented many features from that period. Using careful
observation, all of the details of the evening dinner were thoroughly exposed
and peoples' expressions were vivid and true to life. In the picture, there are
more than 40 figures -- all lifelike and with different expressions. The Han
Xizai at Night Dinner Painting well represented the lifestyle of the
ruling class of that time indirectly. The painter's surprising ability to
observe and his deep understanding of Han's destiny and mentality make the
painting outstanding and thought-provoking.