Portrayals of women in Chan Hongshou's figure paintings

  • Lai Na WAN

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Chen Hongshou (1598/1599-1652), a famous artist of late Ming and early Qing China, was particularly well-known for his figure paintings, which exerted a noticeable influence on later generations and has been the subject most commonly discussed by scholars. Among Chen’s figure painting oeuvre, this study is especially concerned with his portrayals of women ranging between the 1630s and 1650s with an intention to explore what their representations, audience and function reveal about the artist. The existing monographs on Chen’s female figures is limited to only few case studies, from which the artist’s depictions of women have not been clearly sorted out, so there is room for further investigation of the relation between female imagery, cultural meanings and the artist’s identity. The contribution of this study is to research on some specific questions in these regards.

The three chapters of this dissertation consider Chen’s depictions of women from different perspectives. It begins by analyzing Chen’s appropriations and innovations revealed in his female figures in terms of iconographic and thematic aspects. The artist’s works demonstrate identifiable features ascribed to the past paintings that indicate his considerable familiarity with the subject established in the broad history. At the same time, they are distinguished by innovative traits which show his awareness of popular trends in his own time and his facility in reinvention. This thesis then proceeds to examine Chen’s attitude towards women by positioning his representations of female figures in relation to the social and cultural context in the seventeenth century. It is found that Chen’s portrayals of women, on the whole, reveal the artist’s ambivalent stance towards women as he on one hand shows positive on female talent, bonding and emotional disclosure, but on the other hand treats women as object of desire. His conflicting attitudes in fact correspond to the complex status of women at that time. The final chapter of this thesis explores the intended audience and functions of Chen’s rendering of women, from which the artist’s dual identities as a literate man and a professional painter in his late life are strongly revealed.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Visual Studies
SupervisorSuk Mun Sophia LAW (Supervisor)

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