Hua Yen, 1682-1756: His Life and Art

Tsang, Ka Bo 曾家寶
Supervisor: Mr. S.C. Chuang

Hua Yen lived from the latter part of the seventeenth century to about the mid-eighteenth century, a period in which the newly established Ch’ing dynasty strengthened its political and economic stability. In art, the  Manchu rulers endorsed the conservative literati style. However, a spirit of striving for an unique means of self-expression, already prevalent in works of late Ming i-min (loyalist) artists (notably the “Four Monks”, Ch’ en Hung-shou) and Kung Hsien, among others), culminated in a blossoming of diversified styles practised by progressive painters living in Yang-chou, the economic and cultural centre of eighteenth-century China. Traditionally, Hua Yen has been regarded as a conservative artist. Since the Republic, however, art historians occasionally have reclassified Hua Yen as one of the so-called “Eight Eccentric Masters of Yang-chou”. The aim of this paper is to give an in-depth stylistic analysis o the art of Hua Yen in order to evaluate his posit on in the history of later Chinese painting.

Until lately, the life of Hua Yen has been treated only summarily. The recent discovery of the Hua family genealogical record helps tremendously in shedding light on crucial factors that shaped Hua Yen’s life and personality. Chapter I discusses mainly Hua Yen’ s biography. This includes, in addition to the problem of his chronology, his family background, life history, travelling activities, personality, as well as his religious and philosophical thoughts. Chapter II deals with Hang-chou and Yang-chou, two important cities where Hua Yen spent the better part of his life. Also introduced are major literary and artistic figures with whom Hua Yen became acquainted in these two places.

In an endeavour to present a comprehensive study of Hua Yen’s art, Chapter III begins with a brief survey of the artistic atmosphere in the early Ch’ing dynasty. This is followed by a consideration of some of the major stylistic sources among Hua Yen’s oeuvre, and an analysis of the fundamental aspects pertaining to his individual style, namely: his versatile treatment of subject matter, compositional designs, and painting techniques. Also included are some interesting examples of forgeries which serve to illustrate the problem of authenticity among paintings by Hua Yen.

Discussed in Chapter IV is the influence of Hua Yen on posterity, that may be judged by his large following in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In conclusion, various appraisals of Hua Yen’s art by notable biographers, art critics, collectors and artists are examined .. Through their evaluations, it is clear that the art of Hua Yen has won greater appreciation since his death. With the passage of time, in fact, the popularity of Hua Yen has even surpassed most of. his more famous Yang-chou contemporaries. Moreover, Hua Yen’s eclectic taste sets his style apart from those of the “Eight Eccentric Masters”. He should be regarded, therefore, as one of the representative figures of the “Yang-chou School”, but not as one of the “Eight Eccentric Masters of Yang-chou”.