Recreate Memories
Fan Kuan

Fan Kuan

October 13, 2014

“I find myself learning from a man, a human model is inferior to learning directly from nature itself. However, both these methods: model and nature cannot compare with learning from one’s own heart.”

At, we have been covering Indian and Western painters in our previous blogs.

This time, we thought, let’s go East and guess, who did we find for inspiration?

A Chinese painter by the name of Fan Kuan.

Never heard of him?

Never mind. After reading this post, you will.

Because, this post tells Fan Kuan’s story. Nay, the story of just one of his most remarkable works.

During the Song Dynasty three very gifted artists came to be known as the “three great rival artists”. They were Li Cheng, Guan Tong and Fan Kuan. Fan Kuan, the protagonist of our story was the youngest of the lot. Very little is known about his life, as he did not paint a lot of canvasses but one of them did take the art world by storm. It’s called ‘Travelers amid Mountains and Streams.’

What is exceptional about this large, hanging scroll is that there is no such actual landscape in China. The landscape sprung from the painter’s fertile imagination and is so real it takes the viewer’s breadth away!

You gasp, when you look at it!

Fan Kuan (范寬 990-1030) was a court painter who perfected the monumental style of the Northern Song. However shy and reclusive, he spent the latter years of his life, hidden in the rugged terrain of Shanxi province. His paintings must have been inspired by this harsh landscape. Yet he manages to find a surreal beauty in it that’s so evident in ‘Travelers amid Mountains and Streams.’

This large black-ink landscape on silk that now belongs to the Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan depicts a dominating mountain and, if you look closely Liliputian human figures, looking puny against the massive mountain. The scroll speaks of the immense power of nature against which everything appears diminutive.

In Hindu philosophy we are taught ‘Praano Viraat’ or Life is Immense. We are also taught that God or Nature is immense. Even Man is immense, but he has to acknowledge that he is immense. Looking at this scroll, you begin to respect every small and big object around you. Suddenly, everything looms large over your life and you realize that one day it’s going to crush you, yet you are not disturbed by this fleeting state of impermanence.

This painting is a testament to a painter’s skill in unearthing this dominance of nature over the vulnerability of the human beings. Fan Kuan retreated into Mt. Cuihua to live among mountains, plants and beasts, where he started painting perhaps so he can ultimately discover himself through his landscapes.

A painter is often like a seer; he seeks the truth behind mysterious nature and unwittingly stumbles upon his own strength. The mountains were Fan Kuan muse. His journey to the mountains pulled him into a deeper layer of existence.

From his experiences, he fashioned out a landscape that is not visible to naked eye. But that’s the absolute truth. No doubt, Fan Kuan’s paintings became so prized in the early 12th century that the imperial collection owned 58 of it, including a set of 12 horizontal scrolls.

As for Fan Kuan, he has been ranked 59th in the list of 100 most important people of the last millennium compiled by Life magazine.

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