Lot 2558
  • 2558

YU XING 1736-1795 | Fish Pond

10,000,000 - 15,000,000 HKD
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  • Yu Xing
  • Fish Pond
  • ink and colour on paper, handscroll
  • 28.5 by 157.8 cm. 11 1/4  by 62 1/8  in.
signed Yu Xing, with two seals of the artist.with poem by the Qianlong Emperor, dated guiyou (1753) and with two seals of hiswith eight additional seals of the Qianlong Emperor including Shiqu baoji ('The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion') and one other collector's sealTitleslip by Zhuang Yan (1899-1980), dated yisi (1965), with one seal of his


Qing Imperial Court Collection


(1) Shiqu baoji xubian ('Sequel to The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion'), Stored in Jingyi Yuan no.2
(2) Yuzhishi siji ('Imperial Poems, vol. 2'), juan 38, pp.25
(3) and (4) Please refer to the Chinese Literature


- colour is well preserved. - At the beginning of the scroll, there are three holes, approximately 0.3 cm each. Minor paper loss and folding marks near the bottom, restored. - In the middle of the scroll, two vertical acute cracks go from the top to the bottom. And another two short cracks and a small hole can be found, all restored. - a very short crack at the end of the scroll and very minor paper loss.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Yu Xing, Fish Pond

Yu Xing (1736-1795) was a court painter under Emperor Qianlong. References to his biography can be found within the history of painting in passing. In Qing Shigao, it reads, “Yu Xing, also known by his alias as Zengsan, was from Changshu, Jiangsu. He was talented in depicting intriguing life subjects. In the same period, Yang Dazhang’s (1491-1568)  ink and colour painting was equally matched by Zou Yigui (1686-1772), and the duo excelled in the depiction of flowers and birds.” 

A biographical sketch of Yu is also found in Hu Jing’s Guochaoyuan Hualu, “Yu Xing, also known as Zengsan or Luting, a native of Changshu, worked on flowers, birds, insects, and fish.” In Duhua Jilue, published anonymously in the Qing Dynasty, references to Yu are as follows: “Yu Xing, also known as Zengsan, a native of Yushan (in Changshu). He lived in the household of Minister Hai Wang for two decades, and he has never been seen to be angry or agitated. He excelled in painting flowers, birds, plants, and insects, and practiced under the tutelage of Jiang Wensu. His intricate works are engaging and lifelike, and his brushwork is invigorating. The widespread reputation and extraordinary status that he enjoyed were rare among his peers. He was the court painter, and later retired in his hometown.” Mentioned in the passage, “Minister Hai Wang” belonged to a family of Manchu nobility and was the highest ranking official in the Ministry of Revenue during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. “Jiang Wensu,” also mentioned therein, refers to Jiang Tingxi (1669-1732). From this reference, we learn that Yu Xing was a guest painter in the family of Minister Hai Wang, who served as a minister in the Imperial Household Department. Yu Xing also studied and practiced art with imperial minister and renowned flower painter Jiang Tingxi.

Yu Xing hailed from a family of literati and artists in Yushan; his father and brother were also accomplished painters. In the Changzhao Hezhigao, the Yu family was referred to juan 32, “Yu Xun, also known as Xunruo and Jingshan, was talented in depicting still life. He studied after Qiu Qingyu, but also developed a style of his own. His younger brother Yu Huang was also good at portraits. His son was Yu Xing, also known as Zengsan, Jiang Wensu recommended him to serve as a court painter, where Yu Xing practiced with a cohort of nine painters. Among them, Yu Xing was treated very well, and often received praises and bonuses. He practiced there for thirty years, and retired due to old age.”

According to an archive record from the Office of Manufacture for the year 1737 (2nd year of Qianlong’s reign), Yu Xing was recommended to the Imperial Household in June that year, “On the 12th day of this month, Director Samuha, Eunuchs Hu Shi Jie and Gao Yu passed on the Emperor’s decree: Zhao Chuan and Hai Wang, shall provide painters Baiitangga and Wang Youxue two teals of stipend besides their allowance. New painters Yu Xing, Yu Zhi, and Zhou Kun are each accorded eight teals of stipend every month.” In 1741 (6th year of Qianlong’s reign), Yu Xing was recognized as a top-ranking painter.

After working at the Painting Academy Office, Yu Xing enjoyed Emperor Qianlong’s growing appreciation. According to the Shiqu Baoji (Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion ), Yu Xing created 37 art pieces, and in many of them, poems inscribed by Emperor Qianlong himself were found. Hu Jing wrote in Guochao Yuanhua Lu (The Album of the Imperial Court Art Academy), “Yu Xing was found to be talented in depicting living things and animating objects. Emperor Qianlong instructed Yu Xing to perfect his skills, complimented his strengths, and encouraged him to improve on his shortcomings. As the Emperor imparted his regal guidance, Yu Xing was deeply honoured and flattered.” Emperor Qianlong lavished praises on Yu’s paintings in three instances of his imperial majesty’s inscription.

“[Yu] succeeded to invoke interest beyond the painting, and the poetry in the painting” (Inscription to Yu Xing’s Chrysanthemum)
“Yu Xing is talented in depicting living things and imitation. I have instructed Yu to showcase his talent, as I wanted to give my personal guidance to someone worthy of it.” (Inscription to Yu Xing’s Three Leiothrix after Xuanhe Huapu )
“Such life like and marvellous depiction of  living things.” (Inscription to Yu Xing’s handscroll Flowers, Plants, and Insects)

Yu Xing was born in 1692 (30th year of the Kangxi reign). Therefore, he was initiated into the Palace at age 45. There were no records of his passing, but it is generally believed that he died after 1767 (32nd year of Qianlong’s reign).

Yu Xing’s paintings that can be found in the Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion  few and far between in the art market. Fish Pond, literally reads fish and algae in Chinese, is one such rare work. “Fish and algae” originated from the Shijing (Classic of Poetry), in the Xiaoya, of which “Fish and Algae” is among the “ten poems following Fish and Algae.” The poem portrays the peaceful scene in the Western Zhou Dynasty capital, Haojing (near present-day Xi’an). It reads,

’Tis there, ‘tis there in the pond-weed now,
The fish with the head so fine.—
And here, and here is our king in Hau,
Hale and hearty, sipping his wine.

’Tis there, ’tis there in the pond-weed now,
The fish with the mighty tail.—
And here, and here is our king in Hau,
O’er his wine-cups hearty and hale.

There, there is the fish in the pond-weed now,
In its screen of reeds confiding.—
And here, and here is our king in Hau,
In comfort, in peace abiding.

In the Xuan He Painting Manual (Xuanhe Huapu) published during the Northern Sung Dynasty, a chapter is dedicated to “Dragon/Fish,” and it reads, “The subject matter of the poem ‘Fish and Algae’ in the Classic of Poetry is fish with big heads and long tails that swim freely around bulrush. As the fish are far from the hustle and bustle, they seem to suggest wise men who live in seclusion. Moreover, the images found in other works on fish/dragons can also be compared with the fish in ‘Fish and Algae’ in the Classic of Poetry and the fish turning into dragons in the Book of Changes (I Ching).”

“Fish and algae” had long been a theme or motif in art, and over the centuries, a popular subject matter in painting. The debate on the joy of fish between Zhuangzi and Hui Shi, philosophers during the Warring States Period, also endowed the work with another interesting humanistic and historical reference. In addition, in Chinese, the word “fish” (Yu) is a homonym of “abundance” (Yu), so a painting depicting fish could also be construed as having auspicious meanings. Based on this desirable semantic association elaborated in painting, the subject of “fish and algae” became an important decorative motif in the ceramic made during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. It should be noted that the motif “fish and algae” was commonly found on ceramics products produced at the imperial kilns.

This ink-and-colour painting depicts nine kinds fish swimming among the algae, and are accompanied by shrimps, clams, and toads in Xuande paper. In the margin of the work, the painter inscribed “painted by Yu Xing” and imprinted with his two personal seals “Yu” and “Sheng.” In the body of the painting, Emperor Qianlong inscribed a poem, which reads, “Green algae that look like jade scatter around the pond, and fish are swimming freely among the algae. Such a scene makes me wonder if my existence has become irrelevant. Seeing the fish enjoy themselves gives me much pleasure.” Two studio seals are affixed, namely Qiwu, denoting a free and unfettered mental state; Qing Yin Ji Xiasi, meaning a poem composed at leisure to express his feelings at the time. The work is also imprinted with Emperor Qianlong’s seven personal seals, as well as the seals of Guxi Tianzi, a moniker the Emperor uses to refer to himself after his seventy, and of Jingyi Garden.

Yu Xing painted the work using a technique known as “boneless washes,” which resulted in a vivid depiction of fish full of character and swimming around algae. Emperor Qianlong’s poetic inscription corresponds perfectly to the painting, and invokes Zhuangzi’s philosophical debate that was also inspired by fish. Although other court painters in the Qing Dynasty, such as Giuseppe Castiglione, also painted fish and algae, very few of them has created similar works that are as lifelike and realistic as this one.

Although the painter did not denote the year the work was created, we can find out the year of its creation using the following clues. The first edition of the Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion was published in 1745 (10th year of the Qianlong reign), and this work was painted after the first edition, and was included in the second edition. In the painting, Emperor Qianlong’s inscription was dated in 1753, or the 18th year of the Qianlong reign. Therefore, this work was created some time between the 11th year and the 18th year of the Qianlong reign, or between 1746 and 1753, corresponding to age 54–61 in Yu Xing’s life.