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Fish Swimming amid Falling Flowers

attributed to Liu Cai, Chinese, active c.1080–1120
Northern Song dynasty, 960–1127
or Southern Song dynasty, 1127–1279
12th century
Handscroll: ink and color on silk
China, Asia
Current Location
Not on view
image only: 10 3/8 x 100 1/2 in. (26.4 x 255.3 cm)
Credit Line
William K. Bixby Trust for Asian Art
Public Domain
Object Number
The beautifully painted silk surface of this hand scroll presents a lively aquatic scene. The story unfolds along the scroll from right to left, as delicate pink flower petals drift down into the pool, attracting the attention and appetites of slender silvery fish swimming below. One lucky fish with a petal in its mouth flees from envious pursuers down toward the depths and an underwater world teeming with life. Spiny rock fish cavort among the water weeds that hide spidery shrimp and swarms of small fry, while large carp and goldfish swim fluidly along. Vivid movement and the watery environment of marine life were specialties of the artist Liu Cai, a court painter who was renowned for representing his subjects down to the "very scales of a fish's tail." Although the scroll is unsigned, the painting is an acknowledged masterwork by Liu Cai and among the great rarities in Chinese painting.
by late 14th century
Ming imperial collection, Nanjing (now in Jiangsu province), China [1]

by the late 17th century -
Liang Qingbiao (1620–1691), Zhending, Zhili (now Hebei) province [2]

by 1745 - 1796
The Qianlong emperor [Aixin Jueluo Hongli (1711–1799; reigned October 8, 1735–February 9, 1796)], Beijing [3]

1796 - 1820
The Jiaqing emperor [Aixin Jueluo Yongyan (1760–1820; reigned February 10, 1796–September 2, 1820)], Beijing, by inheritance from his father, the Qianlong emperor [4]

by 1820 -
The Daoguang emperor [Aixin Jueluo Mianning (1782–1850; reigned September 3, 1820–February 25, 1850)], Beijing, by inheritance from his father, the Jiaqing emperor [5]

by 1850 -
The first Prince Gong [Aixin Jueluo Yixin (1833–1898)], Beijing, by bestowal from his father, the Daoguang emperor [6]

The first Prince Chun [Aixin Jueluo Yixuan (1840–1891)], Beijing, probably by bestowal from his elder brother, the first Prince Gong [7]

- 1919
The second Prince Chun [Aixin Jueluo Zaifeng (1883–1951)], Beijing, by bestowal or inheritance from his father, the first Prince Chun [8]

1919 - 1926
William K. Bixby (1857–1931), St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased from the second Prince Chun [9]

1926 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from William K. Bixby [10]

The provenance of this object is largely determined by the presence of physical documentation in the form of collectors' seals found on various parts of the handscroll: some were impressed on the painting section itself; some were impressed partly in the painting section and partly on the adjacent mounting; and some were impressed on additional sheets of paper mounted after the painting section.

[1] On the lower right corner of the painting is a so-called "half-seal" (whose legend reads "siyin"), which is an impression of the left side of an official Ming-dynasty inventory seal that was used by the bureau supervising palace services (dianli jichasi) for a short period of time from 1373 through 1384. For discussions of the "siyin" half-seal and its limited period of use, see Zhuang Shen, "Gugong shuhua suo jian Ming dai ban guanyin kao," in his Zhongguo huashi yanjiu xuji (Taipei: Zhengzhong shuju, 1972), pp. 1–46; Liu Jiu'an, "Zhu Tan mu chutu huajuan de jige wenti," Wenwu (Cultural Relics), no. 195 (August 1972), pp. 64–66; and Suzuki Kei, Kenkyû yoroku: Shi'in sankô," Kokka, no. 1117 (October 1988), pp. 27–29.

[2] Seven collector's seals belonging to Liang Qingbiao (with legends reading "Liang Qingbiao yin"; "Jiaolin biwan"; "Jiaolin shuwu"; "Cangyan"; "Tangcun shending"; Cangyan zi"; and "Guan qi dalüe") belonging to the connoisseur Liang Qingbiao were impressed on the painting itself or on the adjacent mounting. A reference to Liang Qingbiao as "Jiaolin" also appears on the title slip, which was originally mounted on the silk tapestry panel outside the scroll, but which was subsequently removed from that position and remounted within the handscroll. See also Steven D. Owyoung, "Chinese Paintings," The Saint Louis Art Museum Bulletin (Summer 1985), pp. 4–5.

[3] Seven imperial collector's seals belonging to the Qianlong emperor were impressed on the painting or partially on the painting and partially on the adjacent mounting. The painting was also recorded in the original manuscript catalogue of the Qing imperial painting collection, the Shiqu baoji (44 juan) (Beijing: Neifu, 1745), compiled by Zhang Zhao (1691–1745) et al.; reprinted in Guoli gugong bowuyuan, ed., Bidian zhulin, Shiqu baoji (Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan, 1971), vol. 2, p. 960. See also Steven D. Owyoung, "Chinese Paintings," The Saint Louis Art Museum Bulletin (Summer 1985), pp. 4–5, where six seals (with legends reading "Qianlong yulan zhi bao"; "Shiqu baoji"; Qianlong jianshang"; Sanxitang jingjian xi"; "Yi zisun"; and "Qianlong yushang zhi bao") are identified as those of the Qianlong emperor, but a seventh (with legend reading "Yu shufang jiancang bao") is also one of the collector's seals of the Qianlong emperor.

[4] One imperial collector's seal belonging to the Jiaqing emperor (with legend reading "Jiaqing yulan zhi bao") was impressed on the painting. See also Steven D. Owyoung, "Chinese Paintings," The Saint Louis Art Museum Bulletin (Summer 1985), pp. 4–5.

[5] The painting is presumed to have remained in the Qing imperial collection during the reign of the Daoguang emperor, who had inherited it from his father the Jiaqing emperor. Unlike his immediate predecessors the Qianlong and Jiaqing emperors, whose seals may be routinely found on innumerable works, the Daoguang emperor is not known to have impressed his collector's seals on paintings in the imperial collection as a matter of course.

[6] The painting later came into the possession of the Daoguang emperor's sixth son, the first Prince Gong [Aixin Jueluo Yixin (1833–1898), whose mother the Empress Xiaojing Cheng née Borjigit (1812–1855) was a descendant of Genghis Khan (probably 1162–1227). The painting was most likely bestowed on the prince by the Daoguang emperor, since it was the only way the painting could have entered the personal collection of an imperial prince. Two collector's seals of the first Prince Gong (with legends reading "Zhengyi shuwu" and "Ledao zhuren") are impressed on the painting. The "Zhengyi shuwu" seal is impressed on the silk damask mounting panel immediately preceding the frontispiece inscription by Wen Peng, while the "Ledao zhuren" seal
is impressed on the lower part of the blank paper section that follows the yellow silk damask mounting panel immediately after the painting section.

[7] The first Prince Chun, a younger brother of the first Prince Gong, was the father of Aixin Jueluo Zaitian (1871–1908), who ascended the imperial throne as the Guangxu emperor (r. 1875–1908). It may well have been on or soon after the auspicious occasion of the imperial accession of 1875 that prompted the bestowal to be made by the first Prince Gong to his brother, who gained considerable elevation in status and protocol rank as the father of the new Guangxu emperor.

[8] According to a letter from Laurence Sickman, Curator of Oriental Art, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City, MO dated September 27, 1941, the scroll is believed to have been in the imperial collection and housed in the Imperial Library in Beijing, China. [SLAM document files]. However, this is only true for the period from around 1740 through 1850 at the latest; sometime between 1833 and 1850, it entered the private collection of the first Prince Gong; it would subsequently enter the private collection of the first Prince Chun sometime between 1840 and 1891. The painting was part of the private collection of the second Prince Chun between 1883 and 1919, from whom it was eventually purchased by William K. Bixby.

[8] Accession record [SLAM document files].

[10] Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, October 29, 1926.
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