Gong Xian
The Art History Archive - Chinese Art

Chinese Painter

By Brandi Leigh - 2008.

Gong Xian - Chinese Painter, ca.1619-1689

Gong Xian was born in the Jiangsu province of China around 1619. He was very well educated and self-taught as an artist; he studied under the guidance of Dong Qichang. Gong Xian was part of the Ming aristocracy and participated in many anti-Qing political activities in his youth. When the Ming dynasty fell, and the Qing dynasty took over, he had to go into hiding to save his life. Xian spent many years in hiding, and during this time continued to write Anti-Qing articles.

Xian was considered the top painter at the Nanjing school and was described as very aloof and eccentric by his peers. Xian promoted artists going out into the wilderness and being inspired by the world around them and criticized those who copied the ancient masters. He chose to promote individuality and stressed the importance of originality in art. Xian generally painted landscapes, with mountains being the main focus of most of his paintings. Willow trees were often common in his art as well. One of Xian’s greatest accomplishments includes his development of the style Jimo, a technique which involves the piling of ink to create layered landscapes.

During his lifetime, Xian was considered the most important of the “Eight Masters of Nanjing” – a group of painters that had been lumped together because they all worked in the same location, with the same artistic environment during a time of similar political and cultural conditions. His artistic ways were influenced by western art as well as traditional art, which gave his paintings a uniquely different feel.

Xian was very intellectual and was known not only for his paintings but his poetry as well. After the Qing dynasty took over, he made a living off of his paintings. Xian spent most of his life in seclusion and made a living by teaching and selling his paintings. He lived a modest life, but died in poverty in 1689.

Xian had two books written in his homage, both by Jerome Silbergeld. One is intitled Gong Xian: A Professional Chinese Artist and His Patronage” the other focused more on his art “Gong Xian: Self-Portrair in Willows, with notes on the willow in Chinese Painting and Literature”.

Artwork by Gong Xian

Gong Xian - Landscapes and Trees - c.1679
Gong Xian - Caves - Date Unknown
Gong Xian - Mountainside Cabin - Date Unknown
Gong Xian - Landscape - Date Unknown
Gong Xian - Landscape Scroll - Date Unknown
Gong Xian - Pine Woods and Reading Room - Date Unknown