AN IMPERIAL PORTRAIT OF CONSORT HUI BY HUANG YINGCHEN QING DYNASTY, KANGXI PERIOD
- ink and colour on silk
The Portrait of Consort Hui, which I recently saw, is an early Qing court colour-on-silk scroll painting measuring 54.5 by 49.5 cm. It is unsigned and bears no inscription, but the silk mounting has a label reading “A portrait of Consort Hui from life”. The painting retains its plain and simple Kangxi-period mounting. Huifei is recorded in historical documents as the daughter of Ayuxi of the Mongol Borjigin clan. She entered the palace at an early age. Her birth date is unknown, and after her death in 1670 she received the posthumous title of Huifei, or Consort Hui. That is to say, the portrait was most likely created before 1670, making it a rare example of early Qing portraiture.
There is another Portrait of Huifei in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing which is a colour on silk scroll painting measuring 225 by 161 cm (fig. 1). It is a full-length portrait of Huifei depicted seated in formal robes. The depiction of her seat and the carpet beneath her are highly formulaic and stylised, suggesting that the portrait was used posthumously for temple worship. The two portraits are stylistically very close and may have been executed by the same hand. The portrait in question was likely to have been a draft for the Palace Museum version. However, one cannot know for certain the identity of the painter as portraits of Qing court ladies were never signed.
A related example is the Half-Length Portrait of Empress Xiaozhaoren in Plain Robes, which is published in Zhu Chengru, Qingshi tudian. Kangxichao (vol. 1), Beijing, 2002, p. 181. (fig. 2) This and Huifei’s portrait are similar in content and style and are likely to share similar dating.
The Portrait of Kangxi Emperor in Ceremonial Armour is also in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing. It is published in Qingdai gongting Huihua [Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court], Beijing, 1992 and in The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum. Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 2 (fig. 3).
The unsigned Kangxi portrait is executed in colour on silk, measuring 112.2 by 71.5 cm. The Emperor is depicted seated solemnly on a wooden armchair under an old pine tree issuing many leafy branches, flanked by a guard on each side. The Emperor is depicted in all his magnificence, dressed in full ceremonial armour, including a helmet, blue armour, a sword around his waist, and a bow and arrows on his back. His guards are similarly equipped with swords and bows. The faces are notably rendered with the characteristics of a portrait against a setting with boulders at the bottom. The Emperor looks around 20 years of age, which would have been after he took over the reins of power from the Regents at the age of 14 in 1667.
The figures are first outlined and then coloured, in accordance to the method of traditional Chinese portraiture. Their attire and accoutrements are similarly rendered in the same technique. The trees and boulders have rigid outlines that reflect the stylistic traces of Ming court paintings; the pigments, albeit heavily applied, are not particularly vivid.This portrait is typical of Qing court portraiture before the influence of Western painting.
There is little documentation on court painting of the Shunzhi and Kangxi reigns, in contrast to the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns, which are documented in detail by the Imperial Household Department. The few recorded court painters of the Shunzhi and Kangxi periods include Huang Yingchen, Wang Guocai, Meng Yongguang, Jiao Bingzhen, and Leng Mei. No works by Wang Guocai and Meng Yongguang have survived. Among the recorded court painters, Huang Yingchen deserves the most attention.
According to various Qing dynasty biographies, Huang Yingchen, zi Jingyi, hao Chuang’an, was a native of Shuntian and lived in the capital all his life; his expertise was in figurative painting, which included Demons and Judges, as well as children, and painted strictly according to the method of the ancients. Hu Jing in his Guochao yuanhua lu [Academy Painting Collection of the Grand Dynasty] even mentions that Huang served as a county official in Shangyuan. I discuss Huang’s biography and surviving works in the essay, ‘The Early-Qing court painter Huang Yingchen and His Works’, Gugong wenwu yuekan, no.3, 1992. Huang served in the imperial court in the early Qing period, and during the mid Shunzhi reign, after his appointment as County Magistrate of Shangyuan, he returned to the court. He appeared to have retired from active court service by 1674.
A small number of Huang Yingchen’s paintings has survived, including the scroll paintings Loushiming tu and Qujuan guiwen huashanshui tu, preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Some of his works are also in the collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing, Hebei Provincial Museum and Qingdao City Museum.
As demonstrated in his paintings, Huang Yingchen painted in a conscientious manner with attractive colours and was very skilled at portraiture. The pine trees in Qujuan guiwen huashanshui tu and Portrait of Kangxi Emperor in Ceremonial Armour are consistent in form and brushwork, which suggests that the two paintings were executed by the same hand. In addition, apart from the boulders and rockwork, the figure in Portrait of Kangxi Emperor in Ceremonial Armour is likely to have been painted by the same artist, showing no sign of multiple painters. The figural style of the sitter also suggests that Huang Yingchen could have executed some early Qing portraits of empresses and imperial concubines as well. Moreover, the Kangxi Emperor was enthroned at the age of eight and took over the reins when he was 14; this period would have overlapped with Huang Yingchen’s tenure at court, which heightens the probability of this connection.
In light of the aforementioned reasons, it is highly likely that Portrait of Consort Hui was painted by Huang Yingchen.