The discourse on color in Chinese painting has long been dominated by a focus on archaism, or the stylistic paradigms established by Song and Yuan masters, including the evolutions of these paradigms in subsequent periods. However, there are other ways of looking at Chinese painting colors beyond reflecting on this preeminent theme. Focusing on textual sources and three works by Zhao Mengfu, Wen Zhengming, and Tang Yin, Quincy Ngan, Assistant Professor in the History of Art at Yale University, explores the choice and positional significance of color within a composition in traditional Chinese painting.
For example, Zhao Mengfu, in his Self-Portrait, manipulated the locations of azurite and its connatural counterpart, malachite, in the composition to reinforce the messages connoted by other pictorial motifs. In his Tao Gu Presenting a Poem, Tang Yin uses azurite and the direction of a houseboy's gaze and posture to draw viewers' attention to the wine flask, reinforcing the significance of wine in Tao Gu's fiasco. Wen Zhengming, likewise, uses malachite to guide viewers and connect different scenes in Heavy Snow in Mountain Passes. This talk argues that an artist's choice of where in a composition a color is applied, or on which motif it is used, are potential clues for unpacking the meaning of color.