Children at Play in an Autumnal Garden

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Sung dynasty

Su Han-ch'en (fl. mid-12th c.), Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 158.3 x 108.1 cm 
Su Han-ch'en was a native of K'ai-feng, Honan, who specialized in painting Buddhist and Taoist figures. During the Hsüan-ho era (1119-1125) under Emperor Hui-tsung of the Northern Sung, he was a Painter-in-Attendance at the imperial academy. After the court moved south, Su resumed his position there, and, in the early Lung-hsing era (1163-1164) of Emperor Hsiao-tsung, he was praised for his Buddhist paintings, earning the title "Gentleman of Trust." In figure painting, the representation of children is recognized as one of the most difficult, especially in achieving that elusive quality of naivete. Su Han-ch'en was a master of observation and description who knew that children at play are in a state of natural ease. His ability to capture the spirit and appearance of such children made him the most renowned painter in this genre.

Using a deft brush and delicate colors, Su has conveyed the quality of children concentrating on play. These lively, adorable figures appear in a garden setting that bears blossoms of hibiscus and chrysanthemums, symbols fully conveying the sense of an autumn day. This work shows a boy and girl playing a game called spinning dates. Completely intent on their game, their attitudes are most natural. On the ground and the round garden stool nearby are fine toys (such as a game board, miniature pagoda, and a pair of cymbals). In the garden, an ornamental T'ai-hu rock dominates the composition. Every detail in this work is precisely delineated, making it one of Su's surviving masterpieces. Since the game that the children are playing here is associated with northern China (combined with the fact that the realism relates to the court style of the Northern Sung), this work may have been done when Su was still working under Emperor Hui-tsung.


Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum