A Short Biography of Ma Yuan (馬遠/ Ma Yüan)
When Ma Yuan was born in Qiantang (today’s Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province) around the middle of the 12th century, he could look back on a long family history. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father all had served as painters in attendance to the Song emperors, and he himself, as well as his own son Ma Lin, would pursue this tradition.
A Brief Biography of Xia Gui (夏珪 / Hsia Kuei)
Just as his contemporary Ma Yuan, Xia Gui had an honorable reputation during his lifetime. There is basically no information about his life; neither where he was born, nor how he was educated, but one can assume that he lived in the capital Hangzhou and served as an official under Emperor Ninzong (宁宗; 1168–1224) in the Imperial Painting Academy. In the middle of the 12th century, landscape painters went away from big-scaled, highly complex pictures and produced smaller, more intimate works. Xia Gui belonged to those Southern Song Dynasty painters who were responsible for a new method of depicting landscapes. Nature was not an accumulation of analyzable structures anymore, but a visual experience which should evoke emotions inside the viewer. Xia Gui’s works show a strong influence from painter Li Tang, a painter from the 11th century, who was famous among the Southern Song painters and often copied. Just as Li Tang before, Xia’s strength laid in the depiction of nature scenes. Most of his surviving works are album leaves, in which he freed the composition of unnecessary elements and simplified the difficult structures.
Painting of the Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) was as the time when painting bloomed. Besides birds and flowers, plants and animals and figure painting, landscapes became an independent topic in painting. The Chinese characters for landscape painting, pronounced “shanshui” (山水), literally means “mountains and rivers”, alluding to the two most important elements in a landscape painting. It had always been a subject in art, but had always played an inferior role until the 10th century, when new concepts arose.