PROPERTY OF A NEW YORK PRIVATE COLLECTOR
One of these splendidly painted plaques depicts Hong Fu Nu (the Red-whisk bearing lady), a legendary Chinese folk figure from the Sui/Tang period, visiting a small inn in Chang’an to meet her lover Li Jing (c. 571-649), who later became the General to Li Shimin (626-649), the future emperor of the Tang dynasty (618-907). Originally a courtesan to Yang Su (c. 544-606), a powerful minister of Sui court notorious for his cruelty, it was said that Hong Fu Nu, who possessed both incredible martial talent and an intelligent mind, eloped with the brilliant Li Jing in order to address the grievances of the people suffering under the tyranny of the court. These two figures were first mentioned, along with a third individual, Qiu Ran Ke (Dragon-beard man), in the fiction Qiu Ran Ke Zhuan/The Biography of the Dragon-Beard Man by Du Guangtong (c. 850-933), forming the trio known as Feng Chen San Xia ('Three Heroes of the Wind and Dust') and together overthrew the Sui Dynasty.
The scene rendered on the second plaque is derived from a well-known romance in Chinese history of Fan Li (c. 536-448 BC), a prominent minister and military strategist of the Yue kingdom during the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC) and Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. With her ethereal beauty and unmatchable elegance, Xi Shi was chosen to be sent as a tribute to the court of Wu kingdom, a long-time enemy of her home state, the Yue kingdom, with the intention to seek revenge by spying and taking advantage of the lust of King Fuchai of Wu. Xi Shi fell deeply in love with Fan Li during the journey to the Wu Kingdom, and the wise minister also grew to admire the courage of this young lady. The mission was subsequently accomplished after nearly two decades, and the two were said to have retired from political service thereafter and lived in relative obscurity. The scene depicted on the present plaque is a popular illustration of the two, who pleasantly roamed the misty wilderness of the placid Lake Taihu on a small boat.
Further famille-rose figural plaques by Wang Dafan include one painted with promenading figures, included in the exhibition Brush and Clay. Chinese Porcelain of the Early 20th Century, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1990, cat. no. 68; two sold at Bonhams San Francisco, one painted with statesmen and female musicians, 25th June 2014, lot 6382, and a smaller second plaque illustrating Li Bo, 17th December 2013, lot 8354; and a fourth example, painted with scholars, from the collection of the Hon. Andrew Li Kwok Nang, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1st December 2010, lot 3279.
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