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Li Gonglin (in the Song Dynasty) : The Five Horses

    Baimiao, as an independent style of painting, prevailed in the Northern Song period. It consists of plain but beautiful pictures using simple ink lines rather than colors modeling. Li Gonglin, the literati painter of the Song Dy-nasty, made great contributions to the development of this style with his re-fined Baimiao technique. He diverted the direction of figure painting from mainly copying the appearance of things in order to meet the demands of soci-ety, to focus on the forms of painting and the expression of the literati' s inter-est in aesthetics. He turned figure painting into a new form of artistic vision with evocative, simple and expressive characteristics.
    Li Gonglin (1040- 1106), style name Boshi, known as Longmian Lay Buddhist, was from a scholarly family in Shucheng county, Anhui province. He was deeply nurtured by art from childhood. In 1070, he succeeded in the imperial examination and had become a local official for several years before he became a courtier. In 1100, he retired to his hometown -- Longmian villa be-cause of his poor health. As a literati painter, he was well-known and had had close contact with Wang Anshi, Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Wang Xian, etc. His writings bore the style of Jian An, while his calligraphy style was derived from the style of calligraphers in the Jin and the Song dynasties. He was of great learning. He was both a connoisseur of bronze objects and ancient ves-sels, and a well-cultivated versatile artist in history. He excelled in copying, using a refined technique. He painted widely including Buddhism, Taoism, people, horses, courts, palaces, mountains, rivers, birds, and flowers, etc. He modeled his figure paintings after his masters, but at the same time devel-oped a highly impressive artistic style by taking the merits of them. He made a creative use of Baimiao ' s simple and natural lines instead of colors to ex-press the mood and appearance of his figures, so his highly condensed and ex-pressive form of art can compete with painting of deep and bright colors and ink and with wash painting.

    The Five Horses (picture No. 6, see p. 678 ), Baimiao on paper, was one of Li Gonglin' s authentic works. The five rare horses were introduced from the west to the Central Plains. They had hairs of different shades and colors, and distinct features accompanied by five horse-drivers in their national costumes and different manners. Its style is characterized by a highly subtle and brief application of the brush and ink, producing a visual effect that stands observing from any perspective. The horses, with their lithe, tough, smooth, masculine bodies in a gentle posture appear gallant and dignified. As for the figures,  their different nationalities,  status,  dispositions,  expressions and characteristics are precisely defined in simple but efficient lines, providing a satisfying aesthetic experience. The perfect lines and modeling by Li Gonglinfully demonstrate the high level that Baimiao had reached in Chinese Figure Painting.
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