Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Artworks and Masters – Xia Gui (夏珪 / Hsia Kuei)

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.

Even though following painters condemned his works after his death (a fate which many Southern Song Dynasty painters faced), painters of the 15th century revived the style that he and Ma Yuan had created, calling themselves the Zhe School.

The Paintings of Xia Gui (夏珪 / Hsia Kuei)

Xia’s painting style was less sleek and missed the simple, but carefully constructed compositions for which Ma Yuan, with whom he founded the Ma-Xia-School, was famous for. Instead, he preferred to paint with a worn brush to avoid his brushstrokes to be to perfect and over-refined. Contemporaries note that Xia also worked with a split brush which allowed him to paint two strokes at one time, a method he mostly used for painting the foliage of trees.

From what we can conclude when seeing his pictures, Xia Gui must have been a fast painter. His short and angular brushstrokes are quickly executed and tell us about his skill and speedy way of working. Just like Ma Yuan, Xia Gui heavily used the “axe cut stroke”, a method to depict the surface of rocks. His use of short and sharp brushstrokes underlines the aim to depict boulders looking as rugged as possible. By using ink in various tonalities for one pictorial element, he creates a sense of volume and distance. He liked to use pale ink for misty areas, thus giving the picture a poetic touch. His work “Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains” is clearly one of his masterpieces. He fully demonstrates his ability to control ink shades, to create spaces by playing with bigger and smaller elements and using lighter or darker washes according to distance.