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Chinese Paintings Daily | Whiling Away the Summer, masterpiece in Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Whiling Away the Summer, by Liu Guandao (act. ca. 1275-1300), Yuan.


This painting is about a scholar in leisure. There are 2 women who are servants and a man lying on a couch who may be a recluse or an eccentric. We see a parts of his exposes body which was very rare for the period. In his right hand is a fly whisk. The theme of the recluse goes back to at least the 3rd century and the Seven Sages at the Bamboo Grove.


The painting contains a painting within itself, almost an inversion as the main painting seems to be that of a winter scene while the interior painting depicts a summer event. On the table near the man is a vase of lingzhi and a musical instrument with scrolls to show the man’s education. The painting plays with the idea of reality vs. illusion, stylistically the work follows Song dynasty painting traditions but is a bit more expressive. The line work on the women’s robes is energetic and frenetic and the bamboo is outlined in color fill.


It was erroneously believed to be a Song-era work by Liu Songnian until 1935, when its owner Wu Hufan discovered "a tiny signature" belonging to Liu Guandao. Whiling Away the Summer is described as unorthodox, and not characteristic of typical Yuan artworks. In Whiling, Liu "developed comparable designs, playing repeated straight lines off of crisp angles and fluid curves."


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