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The Night Revels of Han Xizai

http://www.chinese.cn 18:23, August 26, 2009 THE PALACE MUSEUM

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The Night Revels of Han Xizai

Attributed to Gu Hongzhong of the Five Dynasties (906-960)

Undated, handscroll, ink and colors on silk, h: 28.7 cm, w: 335.5 cm

This is an excellent copy of an original work by Gu Hongzhong. From many factors, it is thought to have been done during the period from 1163 to 1224 in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279).

Serving as an official in the painting academy patronized by Li Yu (r. 961-975), the last monarch of the Southern Tang dynasty (937-975), Gu Hongzhong excelled at figure painting. He was accorded the same high status as his contemporary, the court painter Zhou Wenju (active 10th century). As for the motive for this painting, there are two stories. According to the Painting Catalogue of the Xuanhe Period (1119-1125) (Xuanhe huapu), Li Yu who planned to appoint Han Xizai (902-970) to an important position in the court, hesitated when he heard that Han lived a dissolute life. Therefore, he asked the painter Gu Hongzhong to spy on Han at night and make a visual record of his behavior. A second version of the story appears in The Supplement to the History of the Five Dynasties (Wudai Bushi); it states that the emperor was so angry with Han Xizai for his decadence that he showed this painting to Han to express his dissatisfaction. Han Xizai accepted the emperor's blame and felt guilty. Both versions emphasize that it was Gu Hongzhong who was ordered by the emperor to execute this painting. Another imperial painter, Zhou Wenju, was recorded to have painted the same topic; the painting is known to have been preserved until the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368). Today only the work attributed to Gu Hongzhong has survived.

The painting vividly represents a night party hosted by Han Xizai, who anticipated the fall of the corrupt court. It depicts the host and guests engaging themselves in revels, flirting, chatting, singing and dancing to delightful music. Of all the figures painted, the complicated characterization of Han Xizai's wistfulness and aloofness is of paramount importance.

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