Label: During the 1500s, colorful paintings in the fan format were immensely popular among the wealthy and sophisticated population of Suzhou. These fans, when folded up, could be carried in the long, loose sleeves of gowns worn by both men and women, and casually displayed at a desired moment. Due to this casual use, such fans were prone to damage and loss; yet many have survived, suggesting the tremendous numbers that must have been created. Works by the professional artist Qiu Ying were among the most sought-after decorative paintings of the time, and the ownership of a fan by him was a symbol of wealth and sophistication. In response to this heavy demand, Qiu's workshop produced fans in tremendous numbers. Works in the same style, often with a forged Qiu Ying signature or seal, have continued to be produced to this day. Befitting their purpose, "Qiu Ying" fans are brightly colored and often painted on gold-covered paper. They frequently portray popular themes such as images of Taoist divinities, symbols of good fortune, figures from popular literature, and scholars in various settings.
Exhibition History: "Gems of Chinese Art: From the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, The Avery Brundage Collection", Hong Kong Museum of Art, 5/17/1983-8/7/1983
"Hidden Gold: Mining its Meaning in Asian Art", Asian Art Museum, March 4, 2016-May 8, 2016
During the sixteenth century, the artist Qiu Ying sparked a fashion trend among the wealthy citizens of Suzhou, just northwest of Shanghai. He created fans out of gold-flecked paper, which were painted with a variety of motifs that recall important Chinese mythical themes. These fans, when folded up, could be carried in the long, loose sleeves of gowns worn by both men and women, and casually displayed at a desired moment. Such fan paintings were among the most sought-after luxury goods of the time, and the ownership of a Qiu Ying fan thus became a symbol of social status and sophistication.
The gold ground of the fan paintings symbolizes high value and thus status. Beyond this, however, these two fans employ painted imagery that emphasizes the symbolism of immortality. On one fan (B79D5.a), one of the eight Daoist Immortals can be seen riding on a crane, symbol of transcendence. On the other (B79D5.i), the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove—at least one of them immortal—grace the golden background. In these fans, the substance of gold and the theme of immortality find common ground on what might otherwise be a rather common substance: paper.
(Label from Exhibition Hidden Gold: Mining Its Meaning in Asian Art)