AN IMPORTANT IMPERIAL TAIPING REBELLION PAINTING, FROM THE SET OF TWENTY PAINTINGS OF THE CAMPAIGN OF THE VICTORIES OVER THE TAIPING by qingkuan (fl. late 19th c.) et al QING DYNASTY, GUANGXU PERIOD (1886-1908)
one painting from a set of twenty, depicting the victorious battle at Ruizhou over the Taiping Rebellion army, the Imperial army wearing bright-coloured blue and red military garments; the calvary on finely painted horses wearing cream-coloured vest, all armed with swords, spears, muskets, bow and arrows, led by seven named generals and a war hero Gu Wensheng, the rebellion army seen retreating across the bridge from the conquered fort, the general Pu Chengyao standing on the roof top proclaiming victory, some of the rebels forced into the river, others pursued by the Imperial army led by General Liu Guobin, Liu Tenghong and Liu Tenghe, their futile attempt halted by another Imperial army, led by General Wu Kunxiu, Qiling and Liu Shenghu, strategically maneuvered to prevent their escape, accompanied by war hero Gu Wensheng, charging fearlessly into the front-line of the battle
A French Collection.
The present piece belongs to a set of twenty paintings depicting commemorative battle scenes between the Qing Imperial Army and the rebel forces of the Taiping Heavenly Army. The Taiping Rebellion, led by Hong Xiuquan, a heterodox Christian convert, was a large scale revolt against the authority and forces of the Qing government that occurred from 1850 to 1864. This painting shows the regaining of the provincial capital, Ruizhou, late in the summer of 1857 by the Qing Imperial Army and depicts a beleaguered Taiping garrison abandoning the city after fourteen months of relentless seige. Among the identifiable leaders of the Qing army is the lieutenant of the army, Liu Tenghong, pictured on horseback crossing the bridge, and generals Wu Kunxiu and Qiling, who are recorded as being sent to reinforce the efforts, depicted on the left. Another version of this battle at Ruizhou is illustrated in Robert E. Murowchick, China: Ancient Culture, Modern Land, Norman, 1994, p. 158 (bottom left).
The ninth painting in the Taiping Rebellions series, depicting the Tongcheng battle scene and also lacking its descriptive text, now in the Cecile McTaggart Collection, Edmonton, Canada, published in Hongxing Zhang in 'Studies in Late Qing Dynasty Battle Painting', Artibus Asiae, vol. LX, no. 2, 2000, fig. 1, was sold at Christie's London, 22nd April 1991, lot 101; and the fifteenth painting, of the 'Overcoming of the Isle of Jiufu and Other Strategic Passes', including its original text, was sold in these rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1312.
According to Zhang, ibid., p. 268 (also published in the Beijing Palace Museum Journal Gugong bowuyuan yuankan, no. 2, 2001), in 1885 the Guangxu emperor (r. 1875-1908) initiated a painting project to commemorate the government victory over the three major rebellions, the Taiping Rebellion, the Nian Rebellion and the Muslim Rebellions of the nineteenth century. Qingkuan (1848-1927), Director of the Three Agencies in the Neiwufu (Imperial Household Department), was appointed as director of this major imperial art project. A total of sixty-seven paintings were created, comprising of twenty for the Taiping War, eighteen for the Nian Rebellion, twelve for the Muslim rebellion in Yunnan and Yuizhou, and seventeen for the Muslim rebellion in the northwest borders.
Zhang further notes that a colophon by a certain Wang Yu on a landscape by Qingkuan, mentions that the painting project was completed in 1980, and that the paintings were made for the Ziguangge (Hall of Purple Splendour), located west of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was also where war trophies such as banners and portraits of the meritorious banner officers as well as battle scenes were displayed (see p. 269).Only a very small number of paintings from the original sixty-seven have survived. A complete set of twelve paintings depicting scenes of the Muslim Rebellion in Yunnan and Yuizhou are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, of which one is published ibid, fig. 5. For paintings now lacking the original accompanying text, see two illustrating the Nian Rebellion, in the National Gallery, Prague, included ibid, figs. 2-3; and one painted with the battle of Weihe from the Muslim Rebellion in the northwest borders, published ibid., fig. 4.