Asian Art

Pu Jin (Pu Xuezhai) (Chinese, 1894 - 1966)
Emaciated Horse, Republican Period, ca. 1931-32
Hanging scroll, ink on paper
26 3/16 x 14 7/8 in. (66.5 x 37.7 cm)
Charles F. Olney Fund, 1994
AMAM 1994.2

A member of the Manchu imperial family and a cousin of the last emperor of China, Pu Jin lived through the fall of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) founded by his ancestors. His painting of a wearily trudging horse, and the poems1 inscribed on the scroll by Manchu noblemen and Chinese officials who had served the fallen dynasty, draw on artistic and literary traditions in which horses could symbolize both individuals and the Chinese empire itself.

Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618-907), painters such as Han Gan (active ca. 740-756) specialized in images of powerful horses--muscular steeds that symbolized the military strength of the dynasty and the authority of the Tang emperors.2 Also beginning in the Tang dynasty, paintings of emaciated horses came to symbolize neglected human beings, above all talented scholars who deserved, but often failed to receive, recognition and reward.3 These themes endured in various forms throughout the later history of Chinese painting.

As Pu Jin's inscription indicates, his painting is a copy of a much earlier work (now in the Osaka Municipal Museum), also titled Emaciated Horse, by the scholar-painter Gong Kai (1222-1307).4 Like Pu Jin, Gong Kai witnessed the fall of the dynasty under which he was born. When the Song dynasty (960-1279) was conquered by the Mongols, Gong Kai expressed his sadness and frustration through painting. For many centuries, his depiction of a bony old horse was seen as a reflection of his own fate as an yimin (left-over subject), and as a poignant representation of the ill-fated Song dynasty, to which he remained loyal. No longer a powerful, confident animal, the horse symbolized China in decline.

Pu Jin's hanging scroll is an excellent example of the integration of painting and poetry common in Chinese culture. Although the poems added by friends, relatives, and associates of the artist postdate the creation of the painting itself, these responses to the pictorial image carry the reader/viewer into the literary and artistic traditions shared by these men.

For the ten poets who inscribed Pu Jin's painting between the years 1931 and 1934, the symbolism of Gong Kai's horse held special meaning: as the former subjects of the Qing dynasty, they, too, were yimin. Enriched by learned references to Chinese horselore and mythology, the poems also allude to new threats facing China. In 1931, the year Pu Jin made his painting, Japan invaded northeastern China. The following year the Japanese set up the puppet state of Manchukuo with the deposed Qing emperor Pu Yi (1905-1967) as its titular ruler. Several of the poets hint at the conflict between their loyalty to the emperor they had once served and their desire to distance themselves from a regime controlled by foreign invaders.

Painted in dry, greyish-black ink on paper, Pu Jin's horse is set against an empty background that seems to stress the animal's frailty and isolation. Although the painting is a copy of Gong Kai's work, Pu Jin made slight alterations in his model. For example, he shows the mane hanging from the right, rather than the left side of the horse, thus exposing the gaunt muscles of the lowered neck.

M. M. Douglass, OC 1996, and R. E. Harrist, Jr.

Pu Jin, along with his cousin Pu Ru (1896-1963) and his younger brother Pu Chuan (b. ca. 1913), all members of the Manchu imperial family, were educated in the Chinese classics and learned traditional styles of painting and calligraphy.5 Highly accomplished as a copyist of paintings from the Song and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, Pu Jin became a professor and later Dean of the College of Art at Furen Catholic University in Beijing. In addition to landscapes and horses, Pu Jin also painted tigers and human figures, including an image of Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller.6

With L. J. Wender, New York, from whom purchased in 1994

New York, China Institute Gallery, 1997. Power and Virtue: The Horse in Chinese Art. 11 September - 13 December. Cat. no. 29.

Li Kai. "Ge Shou ge hua" (Each speaks his own mind). Shijie erbao, 2 June 1995, p. B11.

Douglass, Mitchell M. "Pu Jin's Emaciated Horse: Remembering the Past." Au tung 20 (1996), pp. 1-52.

Harrist, Robert E. Jr. In Power and Virtue: The Horse in Chinese Art. Exh. cat., China Institute Gallery, New York, 1997, pp. 46-47, 108-9, cat. no. 29.

Technical Data
Remounted shortly before entering the Allen Memorial Art Museum, the painting is in excellent condition. The off-white paper is framed by silk and pasted to a stiff paper backing. The ink used for both the painting and the calligraphy was made from pine soot or lampblack mixed with animal glue.

1. Inscriptions by the artist in the upper right:
Junqu tu (Painting of an Emaciated Horse)
Xuezhai lin Sonq ren tu (Xuezhai's copy of a Song painting)
Two seals of the artist
Poems inscribed by the following:
Bao Xi (b. 1871)
Bao Ming (active 1930s)
Chen Baochen (1848-1935)
Chen Kuilong (1857-1948)
Chen Zengshou (1876-1949)
Hu Siyuan (b. 1869)
Pu Hui (active 1930s)
Pu Ru (1896-1963)
Yang Zongyi (active 1930s)
Zhu Yifan (active 1930s)

2. For an introduction to the subject of horses in Chinese art and culture, see Valerie Courtot-Thibault, ed., Le Petit Livre du Cheval en Chine (Lausanne, 1989); see also Chu-tsing Li, "The Freer Sheep and Goat and Chao Meng-fu's Horse Painting," Artibus Asiae 40, no. 4 (1968), pp. 279-326.

3. Suan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih, Early Chinese Texts on Painting (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 124-25.

4. See James Cahill, Hills Beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty 1279-1368 (Tôkyô and New York, 1976), fig. 2.

5. Chu-tsing Li, Trends in Modern Chinese Painting (The C. A. Drenowatz Collection) (Ascona, 1979), p. 8. See also Mayching Kao, Twentieth-Century Chinese Painting (Hong Kong, 1988), p. 81, and Julia K. Murray, The Last of the Mandarins: Chinese Calligraphy and Painting from the F. Y. Chang Collection (Cambridge, 1987), p. 65.

6. Julia K. Murray, The Last of the Mandarins: Chinese Calligraphy and Painting from the F. Y. Chang Collection (Cambridge, 1987), p. 58.