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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Flying Sails
Date: 1963
Medium: Hanging scroll: ink and colors on paper
Dimensions: 31 3/16 x 23 13/16 inches (79.2 x 60.5 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Frederick Baekeland
Object Number: 2002.020
Label Text: In the debates over Chinese tradition vis-à-vis Western influence in twentieth-century art, Pan Tianshou was an unyielding proponent of traditional ink painting. Pan believed that Chinese and Western art had divergent values, and each should maintain its own uniqueness and originality. He aimed to bring elements of vigor and surprise to a set of conventional idioms.

In "Flying Sails," an angular land mass juts out from the left foreground; a boat is moored near two cottages and a bamboo grove next to the riverbank. Some twenty sails crowded together on a narrow, winding river are visible behind the bamboo. Above, jagged cliffs rise from the white mists. This arresting composition expresses movement and energy with a series of diagonals and jagged outlines. Pan alternates dry and wet brushwork into a dynamic surface texture. The unusual placement of the inscription on clouds in the mid-section accentuates the positive and negative spaces, which are punctuated by colored ink washes.

Pan's career spanned one of the most turbulent eras in Chinese history. He repeatedly expressed his commitment not only to his artistic pursuits, but also to the prevailing communist regime. Yet during the Cultural Revolution he was singled out for attack and ruthlessly persecuted as an artistic leader of his time, dying as a result in 1971. Calligraphy written in ancient seal script had been an aesthetic advocated by artists who sought to regenerate Chinese art by revitalizing the past. The inscription in square seal script reads:

Glimmering mountain, shimmering water;
Flying sails by the thousands tilt westward;
One only hears the clattering prows of boats.

("Debating Art: Chinese Intellectuals at the Crossroads," curated by Yuhua Ding, with assistance by Elizabeth Emrich, and presented at the Johnson Museum February 2-July 8, 2018)

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.