The hermit Li Tieguai

Huang Shen, also known as Yingpiao, was born in Ninghua, Fujian province but spent his adult life in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province as a professional painter. One of a group of painters known as the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, Huang is especially noted for his rough, splashed ink technique and his application of cursive-script strokes in figure painting, both of which are evident here.

Li Tieguai, literally ‘Li with the Iron Crutch’, is one of the famous Eight Immortals in Chinese folklore. He is always depicted as a crippled beggar, with an iron walking stick in his hand, and a gourd-shape wine container at his waist. According to the story, Li was once a good-looking young man and successful Daoist practitioner who obtained immortality. One day his soul travelled out of his body to visit his teacher Laozi, but on his return seven days later he found the body destroyed. Li had no choice but to take over the body of a dying beggar. By depicting Li Tieguai, the artist illustrates images of both a popular immortal and a common beggar, a unique subject in Qing figure paintings.

Details

  • Catalogue text

    Huang Shen was born in Ninghua, Fujian province, where he spent his youth and the later part of his life. His middle years however were spent in the thriving city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, and he is among the painters known as the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou (Yangzhou baguai). His early, meticulous style gave way in maturity to a rough, splashed ink technique which proved highly lucrative in the prosperous mercantile environment of Yangzhou.

    In: Vainker, Shelagh, Chinese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2000)

Further reading

Vainker, Shelagh, Chinese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2000), no. 53 on p. 75, illus. p. 74 fig. 53

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