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 Short Biography of Zhao Meng Fu (趙孟頫/Chao Meng Fu)
The transition from the Song Dynasty to the Yuan was a turbulent time in China. In the artistic tradition, one man more than any other embodied the difficulties and opportunities presented by both the fall of an ailing dynasty and the assertion of foreign rule. Zhao Meng Fu (1254-1322), a descendent of the Song royal family, survived the fall of the Song and lived to gain great acclaim as a calligrapher and artist. Although he was linked by blood to the previous dynasty, Zhao nevertheless wholeheartedly promoted the legitimacy of Mongol rule in China. As a result many scholars in his own time and in the later Ming Dynasty criticized him as little better than a traitor.
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.