Lot 2600
  • 2600

QIAN WEICHENG (1720-1772) | Landscape after the Four Great Yuan Masters

12,000,000 - 16,000,000 HKD
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  • Qian Weicheng (1720-1772)
  • Landscape after the Four Great Yuan Masters
  • ink on paper, handscroll
  • 33 by 523 cm. 13 by 206 in.
Inscribed twice, dated dinghai, corresponding to 1767, with a dedication to his younger brother Qian Weiqiao and with four seals of the artist in total.Titleslip by Yang Qinglin (19th Century), dated gengwu (1870) and with one seal of his.Frontispiece by Fan Yongqi (1727-1795) and with three seals of hisColophons by Qian Zai (1708-1793), dated xinmao (1771) and with three seals of his; by Zhao Yi (1727-1814) and with three seals of his; by Zhao Huaiyu (1747-1823), dated jiawu (1774) and with four seals of his; by Zhang Qia (1718-?), dated jiawu (1774) and with one seal of his; by Peng Yuanrui (1731-1803), dated jiawu (1774) and with three seals of his; by Ping Shengtai (18th Century), dated gengzi (1780) and with four seals of his; by Zhao Huaiyu, dated the sixteenth year of Jiaqing reign (1811) and with two seals of his; by Shao Songnian (1848-1923), dated bingchen (1916) and with two seals of his.Inscriptions in the mounting border by Qian Daxin (1728-1804), dated dingwei (1787) and with two seals of his; by Yang Qinglin, dated guiyou (1873) and with one seal of his. with one collector's seal of Cao Wenzhi (1735-1798), one collector's seal of Wang Lizhai (18th/19th Century), two collector's seals of Ye Honghan (Qing Dynasty), four collector's seals of Jin Chuansheng (19th/20th Century), one collector seal of Yang Qinglin and five other collectors' seals


(1) Qian Zai, Tuoshizhai Shiji, (Qing Qianlong carved version),  juan 32
(2) Zhao Yi, Oubeu Ji, (1812 Zhanyitang carved version),  juan 21
(3) Zhao Huaiyu, Yiyoushengzhai Ji, (1821 carved version), shi juan 5 and 28
(4) Peng Yuanrui, Enyutang Jigao, (1827 carved version),  juan 3
(5) Qian Daxin, Qianyantang Shiji, (1831 carved version), juan 5
(6) Shao Songnian, Chenglantang Guyuan Cuilu, 1904, juan 5, pp.15-19
(7) Xu Bangda, Gaiding Lidai Liuchuan Huihua Biannianbiao, Beijing, 1995, p.238

(1) Shanghai Museum ed., Zhongguo Shuhuajia Yinjian Kuanshi, 1982, pp.1498-1499 (Qian Weicheng’s seal impression 22, 24, 28 and signature 33); p. 1364 ( Zhao Huaiyu’s seal impression 11, 13, 15); p. 1495 (Qian Zai’s seal impression 22) 
(2) Kaikodo Journal, The Power of Form, Spring 1998, pp. 106, 243-244, no. 20
(3) Kaikodo Journal, Scholarly Premises, Autumn 1999, p. 146


Frontispiece: paper bears slightly darkened tone to the edges due to age. Painting: paper bears slightly darkened tone to the edges due to age. In the middle of the scroll, there is a tearing from the top to the bottom, restored. And two other shorter tearings located near it. Also there is another one at the end of the scroll, all restored. Colophons: Minor buckling and paper loss. Blurring to area of the calligraphy in Qian Daxin's colophon from mounting process
"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

Court scholar and painter Qian Weicheng (1720–1772) practised painting since an early age. He had been invited to work at the Imperial Court for over 20 years, and had enjoyed the opportunity to inspect paintings with the Qianlong Emperor. The extraordinary access allowed him to examine a large amount of ancient paintings first hand, and develop a profound sensibility to imitate famous artworks. The Qianlong Emperor showed deep appreciation for his works, and lavished praises on his style that was reminiscent of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty. On Qian Weicheng’s In Imitation of Huang Gongwang's Autumn Mountains, now in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, it reads, “Strong autumn winds sweep through Xing'an, where the mountains are barren, clouds are white, and trees are jagged and uneven. I follow others to see the sights around the area, and I jot down my feelings and impressions. For no particular reason, I casually created this imitation of Huang Gongwang’s painting.” (fig.1)  Granted, the number of Qian’s imitative artworks is very small despite the Qianlong Emperor’s high praise. In the current handscroll, the styles and characters of all Four Great Masters of landscape painting were found, and as such, this work is among the rarest. This scroll is over 16 feet long, and the continuous landscape was painted with rich and varying brushwork, showing distinct shades of ink and an intricate composition dominated by a rugged landscape. The beginning of the scroll features mountain peaks and forests interspersed by streams. The techniques employed – brushstrokes piling one on another to produce masses of texture – are characteristic of Wang Meng’s brushwork. Its sharp rocks and range upon range of mountains hint at the brushwork of Huang Gongwang. Beautiful trees and rocks dot a village on a plateau over the cliff, and this depiction reminds us of Ni Zan’s landscape painting, and affords us a moment of calmness against the dramatic mountain backdrop. Afterwards, we see peaks painted using the techniques of Huang Gongwang. The mountains are surrounded by streams and forests, and this composition draws inspirations from Wu Zhen. The end of the scroll features flat rocks and gentle slopes, which are painted using the technique associated with both Wu Zhen and Huang Gongwang, but Huang’s influence seems to predominate. This subtle reference and reverence to Huang Gongwang can be explained in terms of Qian Weicheng’s admiration of all things ancient, as he wrote, “Among the Four Great Masters in the Yuan Dynasty, Huang Gongwang was the best. Huang’s ink wash paintings are the most charming because the painter fully understood the characteristics and workings of Nature. The spiritual landscape that Huang created tells the story of lives as they are nurtured by the wonder of Nature.”[1]

Each of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty boasts a discrete style. Qian Weicheng adroitly combined and synthesised their diverse styles and characteristics, so they still come together as one magnificent work. The synthetic work can be said to display a simple but vigorous style of its own. Having thoroughly mastered the art of the Four Great Masters, Qian deployed his skills and tenacity to create this epitome of grand styles while paying tribute to all his predecessors. Most imitative works of the period were imitations of the works of one or two old masters, or album in which each leaf was usually an imitation of the work of one painter. Therefore, Qian’s scroll, in which the artist imitated the Four Great Masters, was very rare.

According to the inscription, Qian Weicheng saw Wang Yuanqi’s imitation of landscape painting from the Yuan Dynasty at the place of his friend Yu Minzhong (1714–1779), and paid a compliment by saying, “a free style of brushwork to breathe life into the work and to bring it all together.” Qian was inspired to create this work thereafter, and he lamented that his work was inferior to Wang’s work out of humility. Qian Weicheng greatly admired Wang and once said, “Since the passing of Wang Yuanqi, there have been no more outstanding painters. For this reason, the depths of the soul are missing from all the landscape paintings that came after Wang.”[2] Qian also added, “There are two schools of landscape painting masters in the Qing Dynasty, one is Yun Shouping, and the other is Wang Yuanqi. These two painters can be compared to two poets in history, namely Li Bai and Du Fu. Du Fu’s poems are grandiose and epic, whereas Li Bai’s poems are unrestrained and untamed. Li and Du, whose contributions were considered irreplaceable, were revered and admired by their posterity.” [3] Qian was struck by the original work, which he had a rare opportunity to see.

When Qian Weicheng painted this work in 1766, he was in the capital to serve as the Vice Minister of Justice and Education Commissioner of Zhejing. A year prior, he accompanied the Qianlong Emperor to travel to the South. As he maintained a busy official schedule, he could only paint during his spare time, and the work took him over two months, and upon completion, it was an opportune time for him to give the painting to his visiting younger brother as a gift. Therefore, the scroll was not only a work of leisure in which the painter exuded his admiration for ancient art, this gift for a younger sibling also served as a didactic work, on which he projected his deeper sentiments. 

The scroll was given to his third younger brother Qian Weiqiao (1739 -1806), who was also known by his aliases Shu Can, Shu Chuan, and Zhu Chu. He was erudite in history, literature, arts, and the teachings of Chan Buddhism. He wrote legends that were adapted for very popular plays during the Qianlong years, and multiple editions of his works were passed down in history. Collaborating with scholar-official Qian Daxin, Qian Weiqiao edited the Annals of Yin County in Zhejiang (Yunxianzhi).  Weiqiao and his elder brother Weicheng, the first in the palace examination, were both accomplished scholar-officials, and were dubbed the “Qian duo of Changzhou.”

Although Qian Weicheng was 19 years Weiqiao’s senior, they kept frequent contact with each other. Between the years 1766 and 1767, Weicheng gave Weiqiao his painting, and after embellishing it, Weiqiao inscribed two poems on it. In the same year, Weicheng gave his younger brother another work he painted, entitled, Long landscape scroll painted for younger brother Weiqiao, year 1776.[4]  

Qian Weiqiao admired his elder brother very much, and described Weicheng in the following words, “his poems follow the style of Li Bai and Du Fu. His essays are fluent, unpretentious, but at the same time, rich in ideas and imagery. It would be difficult to imitate his style of writing. His calligraphy reminds me of Su Shi, and he succeeded in bringing together the beauty of all Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty and developing a distinct style.” [5] As Weiqiao was given the current seminal work of Landscape Painting Imitating the Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty, he knew he had to cherish it. Unfortunately, Qian Weicheng passed away five years later. To honour and eulogize his late elder brother, Weiqiao brought this scroll with him two to three years within Weicheng’s passing and invited many friends to inscribe poems on the painting. Among them, Qian Zai (1708–1793), Palace Library Attendant, Zhao Yi (1727–1814), poet and historian, Zhao Huaiyu (1747–1823), poet, Zhang Qia (1718–?), also known as Yuanguang Daoshi, painter, Peng Yuenrui (1731–1803), Imperial Grand Secretary and collector, as well as Ping Shengtai, fellow Imperial Examiner, and Qian Daxin, scholar-official and historian, with whom he had collaborated. They tended to be well respected literati and important officials from Changzhou, or colleagues and friends of Qian Weicheng, so their inscriptions on the painting can also be found in their respective collections of works, such as Zhao Yi’s Oubei Ji, Zhao Huaiyu’s Yiyoushengzhai Ji, Peng Yuenrui’s Enyuyang Jigao, and Qian Daxin’s Qianyantang Shiji, etc. In these poems, many compared the Qian brothers to poets Su Shi and Su Zhe, as the younger brother studied under the tutelage of the elder brother. Many also lavished praise on Qian Weicheng’s gift for arts and literature, and mourned his passing. As such, the current scroll is undoubtedly an important artefact for studying the literati scene in the city of Changzhou and the Jiangnan Region during the Qianlong and Jiaqing periods.

Drawing clues from the inscriptions, the scroll was in the collection of Wang Lizhai, a Huizhou merchant in the Jiaqing and Daoguang periods after the passing of Qian Weiqiao. Later on, the treasure was collected by Yang Qinglin’s Pinglu Studio, as documented by his son in law Shao Songnian (1848-1923) in Chenglantang Guyuan Cuilu. In 1873, Yang Zhenfu acquired Wang Yuanqi’s Landscape after the Four Great Yuan Masters and was overjoyed that he could use this work as a reference.[6] When Yang passed away, both scrolls, painted by Qian and Wang respectively, belonged to Shao Songnian. In 1916, Shao inscribed notes on both scrolls explaining their acquisition. The scroll by Wang Yuanqi was published in Enchanting Images: Late Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Shih-t'ou Shu-wu Collection.[7] However, the Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty to whom Wang’s work refers are different from those to whom Qian’s scroll refers, namely, Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, Wang Meng, and Wu Zhen. If, at the time, Qian Weicheng really did see Wang’s imitative work, then Qian only followed Wang Yuanqi’s imitation of ancient paintings in spirit but not in substance.



[1] Complete Works of Qian Weichang (Qianwenmingong Quanji), Anthology of Tea Mountain (Chashan Shichao), juan 9

[2] Ibid. juan 4

[3] Ibid. juan 3

[4] Ibid. juan 1 and The Zhuchu Anthology of Poems and Essays (Zhuchu Shiwenchao), juan 10

[5] Ibid. juan 5

[6] See Shao Songnian, Chenglantang Guyuan Cuilu

[7] See Cai Yixuan ed.,  Enchanting Images: Late Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Shih-t’ous Shou-wu Collection, Taipei: Rock Publishing, 2001, pp. 126-127 & 312-315, No. 56.

[8] http://painting.npm.gov.tw/Painting_Page.aspx?dep=P&PaintingId=6320