Zhao Mengfu

Man and Horse (人馬圖)

Man and Horse

Hermit under Rock and Tree

Hermit under Rock and Tree

           Zhao Mengfu was a Yuan Dynasty master painter who also practiced the art of calligraphy. While serving during the period of Mongol rule, Mengfu was actually a prince and descendent of the previous Song Dynasty. Born in Wuxing (吳興) he would become a prominent scholar, painter and calligrapher in the Mongol court. Zhao would actually be on the receiving end of a lot of criticism over his collaboration with the foreign rulers. Despite this though, Zhao would produce multiple pieces of art which are regarded as national treasures in modern times.

          Following in the line of pervious literati painters of earlier periods in Chinese history, Zhao Mengfu’s art represented personal expression and feeling of a subject rather that strict literal replication of nature. Mengfu’s calligraphy was also unique in the sense that he favored a cruder style more reminiscent of those seen in the Jin or Tang dynasty rather than the softer brushwork style of his contemporaries. While studying various styles he would eventually settle on that of Li Yong (李邕). In addition to his positively regarded paintings and calligraphy his regular script is considered to be one of the four greatest in Chinese history.

          Mengfu would frequently paint horses similar to the style popular in the Tang Dynasty though he would often break from this subject to also paint other animal groups, bamboo groves, as well as a variety of landscapes. One of the most striking features of his work is that his paintings have very muted and simplified colors and compositions. Additionally, his sense of scale and forms were also rather simple. Also, in addition to his own work both his wife and one of his sons, Guan Daosheng (管道升} and Zhao Yong (趙雍), also painted a variety of subjects as well in a similar style. Since his death his former residence in modern in Huzhou in the Zhejiang province has been turned into a museum to house his work.