TheElegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden
Inthis paper, I will focus on a painting I saw in Gallery 214 of theMetropolitan museum of art in New York. I’m fortunate to have hadthe chance to visit this museum because I had always dreamt ofvisiting the site since I was a kid. Sometimes referred to as the"MetMuseum,"the Metropolitan museum is the largest art gallery in the UnitedStates, which certainly explains why it is one of the most visitedarts center internationally. It is the opinion of Murck and Fong(1991) that the Metropolitan museum is home to more than two millionworks of art, spread through eighteen departments of art curatorialsections. Nevertheless, out of the millions of art displayed at themuseum, only one grabbed my attention like a super magnet. In Gallery214 of the New York based arts center, is "TheElegantGathering in the Apricot Garden."The Met museum of art purchased this beautiful piece from The DillonFund Gift in 1989.
TheElegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden is one of the many works ofart attributed to Xie Huan, who articulated this fantastic piece forYang Rong (1371-1440) on the 6th of April, 1437. The beautiful pieceof fine art is basically made of silk, ink, and color. Following myvisit to New York`s Metropolitan gallery, I was emotionally moved themoment I set my eyes on this particular piece among all of Xie Huan`sworks of art. Therefore, my initial response towards the painting wasaffirmative. To me, the painting was expressive of warm friendshipdepicted by how close the friends in the painting are sitting under atree relishing the fruits of their friendship!
Beingan individual that treasures my friends, Xie Huan’s picture invokedan emotional response because I have similar pictures in my personalcomputer. I plan on transforming all of them from digital form tosuch fine art comparable to TheElegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden.I liked this piece of art because in it, I saw a depiction of myself.Walking in the gallery admiring the largest collection of art I haveever seen, I came across Xie Huan’s painting and thought to myself:"Wow, what a gorgeous work of art! How about searching for anartist to recreate a similar illustration of my friends and me?"At this moment, I realized that it would be helpful to bring anotebook and take stock of my responses to this stunning work of art.
Accordingto Cheng (2010), Xie Huan`s painting documents a historic conferenceof nine intelligent scholars enjoying their culture while takingpleasure in their acquaintance. As the title suggests, thecongregation took place in the Apricot Garden in Beijing in spring of1437. In this painting, the nine cultural scholars are sitting underflourishing trees. Some of the scholars are admiring vintages(instruments), others doing calligraphy in the company of beautifulwomen, others playing musical instruments, while some of the scholarsare playing board games.
The"primary" focus is a figure wearing a red silk robe thathas a distinctive golden pattern, a blue and golden belt, and brownslippers. The centrally located character is seated on a baroquewooden desk playing a stringed instrument similar to the Qin,a Western Zither. It is the opinion of Laing (1968) that the centralpositioning of the main character, on top of his brightly coloredrobe, draws the attention of the observer to this man. Furthermore,the conifers slanting away from this figure in the red robe form aV-shape, edged on both sides by an undergrowth of the trees. ThisV-shape seems to be an instruction of where the main focus of thepainting should be the individual in the red robe.
Tothe right of this "centrally" located figure, is agentleman who from my observation, appears to be tendering to theneeds of the man in the red robe. I am saying this because he seemsto be holding the fabric used to cover the stringed instrument heldby the man in the red robe. In the painting, I can see depictions ofyouthful domestic aids as well. One of them is in blue shorts andseems to be tending to white flowers. Another domestic aid is in agreen and white quilted fan, sitting close to the three men in white,red, and purple robes. This trio of scholars is seated at a tableplaying a game of strategy, similar to the present day Chinese gameof qi.From my point of perspective, Xie Huan has employed the concept oforder of scale to depict the male servants as inferior to thescholars.
Theartist successfully portrays the servants as inferior by paintingthem in a miniature stature compared to the sizes of the scholars.Seated to the left of the central figure, is yet another man butwearing a white robe. He is fondling his long beards while observinga beautiful lady playing a Chinese stringed instrument known as apipa.The lady is in a white under gown, a tan apron, a blue jacket, and abelt from which I can see trinkets hanging. Next to her is yetanother domestic aid attending to a tiny burner. Attached to thepainting, are poems composed by the nine scholars, beginning with apreface engraved in scripts by Yang Shiqi (1365-1444). According toMurck and Fong (1991), the figure in the red robe is Yang Shiqi, theoldest member of the gathering. Next to the painting, I can see aplinth that identifies all the participants in the meeting.
Consideringthat Xie Huan drew this painting during the Ming dynasty, his styleis borrowed from the earlier Southern Song painting school. Beforethe existence of the Ming dynasty, the aborigine Chinese rulingregime developed two schools of art the Northern and SouthernSchools. The Southern dynasty, which is Xie Huan`s school, wereartists known for their artistically expressive styles common amongthe amateurs. As such, Xie Huan pursued the descriptive style of inkand wash painting, while the Northern school practiced moreexpressive and intense forms of art (Harries, 2009).
InTheElegant Gathering in the Apricot Gardenpainting, Xie Huan uses many brushstrokes to express his feelings andpersonality not his technical adeptness. Xie Huan uses both broadand thin slashes of line with bold brushes of ink as an amateur toexpress his freedom, coupled with the emotional expression offriendship. Therefore, being an artistic amateur, Xie Huan does notadhere to any styles of painting like surrealism, cubism, or anyother style. I took stock of this fact as I was carefully examiningthe painting because there are no visible prints of any artisticstyles. This painting, crafted by an amateur, displays his creativeand artistic freedom of expressing his feelings and thoughts.
DespiteXie Huan`s inability to conform and adapt to a particular artisticstyle, he did not miss the mark when driving his point home. Istrongly think that this work of art was created to depict the powerand prestige of the scholars in the gathering. First, the codes ofcolor behind the robes worn by the scholars are indicative of theirranks. Yang Rong (primary focus) is in the red robe, signifying hissuperiority above the others, being the eldest scholar in attendance(Harries, 2009). This is indicative of the hierarchical order inChinese culture. Additionally, the hierarchical Chinese order isportrayed by Xie Huan in the miniature depiction of the domestic aidson the painting. The domestic aids are drawn smaller in size toexpress that they are significantly “inferior” to the otherpeople in the painting depicting the existence of a concisehierarchical order in the Chinese culture.
Additionally,the harmony in the picture is an indication of the peace andtranquility among the different hierarchical orders in the Chinesseculture. All the people in the painting are of various hierarchicalorders, but coexist with each other in harmony. From theseobservations, I can confidently argue that Xie Huan`s intention issuccessfully communicated. I am of the opinion that this piece hasaesthetic value because it is an accurate depiction of the Chineseculture. If his intentions were to express the harmony, peace, andtranquility in the Chinese culture, then he has driven his point homewith this epic painting. Thanks to Xie Huan`s cultural message in TheElegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden,I now comprehend to a certain extent, the harmony and peace betweendifferent hierarchical orders in the Chinese culture.
Cheng,L. (2010). Ming Dynasty: Urban Reconstruction and Resurgence afterthe Yuan Dynasty. Evolutionand Development Chinese City and Urbanism,189-211. Doi: 10.1142/9789814293730_0010
Harries,K. (2009). Art Work and Thing. ContributionsTo Phenomenology Art Matters,69-82. Doi: 10.1007/978-1-4020-9989-2_5
Laing,E. J. (1968). Real or Ideal: The Problem of the "ElegantGathering in the Western Garden" in Chinese Historical and ArtHistorical Records. Journalof the American Oriental Society,88(3),419-455. Doi: 10.2307/596867
Murck,A., & Fong, W. C. (1991). Wordsand images: Chinese poetry, calligraphy and painting.New York: Metropolitan Museum of art.