The present lot is delicately painted with an island of craggy mountains shrouded in swirling mist amongst rippling waters. The pavilions and mansions behind the jagged rocks are partially revealed through the haze. The painting is further detailed with lively figures and animals in grottos.
The title of the painting Fenglin Zhou, literally meaning 'The Islet of the Phoenix and Unicorn', refers to an immortal island in the Xihai (Western Sea). The tale of the mysterious island was apparently first recorded in Hainei shi zhou ji ('Records of the Ten Islands within the Realm') by Dongfang Shuo (154-93 BC), the witty and eloquent politician in the Western Han dynasty (202 BC-9 AD). It was said that there were immortals living on the two islets (a larger one and a smaller one) of Fenglin Zhou, where rivers, magical herbs and buildings could be found. The present landscape painting depicts figures and animals on an island with mountains and buildings in haze through the mist echoing this classical description.
The painting style of the present lot closely resembles that of Yuan Jiang and Yuan Yao. Yuan Jiang (c. 1671-1746), a renowned painter who served the Qing court from the Yongzheng through the Qianlong period, was famous for his paintings of landscape and buildings in meticulous brushstrokes. One painting by Yuan Jiang, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, depicts another immortal island Penglai with mountains in similar dynamic and stylistic brushstrokes. His son, Yuan Yao, active in the mid-Qianlong period, also served in the Qing court. Compared to his father, he demonstrated similar outstanding characteristics on his landscape paintings – oftentimes with rugged, highly-wrinkled and porous-filled rocks and mountains. One of Yuan Yao's paintings Before the Rain, now in the Beijing Palace Museum, is similarly painted with elaborate mansions among pine trees below the cragged peak. Another painting in his hand Autumn Moon over the Dew Terrace, in the collection of Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Cologne, dated to 1721 during the Kangxi period, illustrated in Steven Little, Taoism and the Arts of China, The Art Institute of Chicago, pl. 150, p. 378, depicts rocks of forms, moss dots and shading comparable to the mountains on the mythical island as seen on the present painting.
During the Qianlong period, the studio of Prince Yong Xing was once named Fenglin Zhou, before it was included in Yuanming Yuan and renamed Qing Xia Zhai. The Jiaqing emperor, familiar with the name and probably also the tale of Fenglin Zhou named the newly built scenery with two islets in the Yuanming Yuan after the immortal island. He also had a large seal and a set of three smaller seals related to this legendary land.
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