Figure painting boomed in the Tang Dynasty (618-970) with an obvious tendency towards depicting real life, later maturing in the Five Dynasties period (907-960). Painters of that period emphasized real life in a realistic style, which is why many figure paintings were essentially portraits, painted in an elaborate style. Painters from the Southern Tang (937-975) Painting Academy, such as Gu Hongzhong, Zhou Wenju, Wang Qihan and Wei Xian, were known for their realistic-style figure paintings.
TheHan Xizai at Night Dinner Painting
by Gu Hongzhong was the best representative portrait painting of the Five Dynasties period.
A native of Beihai (today'sWeifang City, Shandong Province), Han Xizai ranked high in the imperial examinations as a youth. Later, war forced Han to move south where natural and productive conditions were much better and where many officials kept singing girls at their homes. Han was very talented in both politics and art, and he was accomplished in music, singing and dancing, poetry, calligraphy, as well as painting. In fact, his talents were so boundless that the emperor of the Southern Tang wanted to nominate him as prime minister, but Han declined. Han would rather indulge himself in drinking and dancing than follow the ways of corrupt officialdom. The emperor was very curious and sent the famous painter Gu Hongzhong to pry into Han's private life. After delivering his report, Gu paintedHan Xizai at Night Dinner Painting.
The painting, at 333.5 cm long and 28.7 cm wide, displays five scenes in one: thePipaperformance, dancing people, musical concert, resting place and departing guests. The skillfully created painting employed screens and instruments to connect and separate different sections. In each of the five episodes, Han plays the main actor. The picture depicts Han's psychology: having no trust in the emperor, he had no choice but to indulge himself in entertainment to escape worry.
Han Xizai at Night Dinner Paintingwas not only a painting about personal life, but also represented many features from that period. Using careful observation, all of the details of the evening dinner were thoroughly exposed and peoples' expressions were vivid and true to life. In the picture, there are more than 40 figures -- all lifelike and with different expressions. TheHan Xizai at Night Dinner Paintingwellrepresented the lifestyle of the ruling class of that time indirectly. The painter's surprising ability to observe and his deep understanding of Han's destiny and mentality make the painting outstanding and thought-provoking.