Peinture des mille automnes
Papier, Encre, Couleurs - Pigments
H. 227 x l. 115.2 cm
Legs : Cernuschi, Henri
Inscription and signature: 款識：千秋三永圖。鐵嶺且道人指頭生活。
Seal of the painter: 印：指頭生活（白文） This monumental work illustrates the finger-painting technique with which Gao Qipei is associated. Gao Qipei was born to a Chinese family originating from Tieling 鐡嶺 in Manchuria. These origins were favourable in a civil service career, in the political context of the Qing dynasty. Gao Qipei followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as a public official in the provinces of Yunnan, Zhejiang and Sichuan as well as in Beijing. He was introduced into court circles, where he would have demonstrated his talents as a painter, particular finger painting, a genre popularised by the emperor Shunzhi 順治 (1638-1661).
The painting centres on a couple of deer. Gao Qipei pictured this good luck motif in several of his works. One in the Capital Museum in Beijing bears similarities in its composition to the Cernuschi Museum painting. The portrayal of the deer illustrates the various techniques used by the painter: a contour drawn with the finger to bring out the figure, progressively smudged finger prints for the animal’s spotted coat, details of the eyelashes and brows made with the fingernail.
Studies focused on Gao Qipei’s ink work have sometimes eclipsed his original use of colour. Yet the treatise by his grandson Gao Bing 高秉 points out the rather unconventional use of colour in his grandfather’s painting. He notes that red, generally lightly applied, was painted in thick layers by Gao Qipei, who also liked to apply layers of green and blue over inked areas. In certain details, the Cernuschi Museum painting illustrates these points exactly: a bat in a deep red stands out against the pine branches, while mushrooms of immortality, traced in ink, are splashed with green and blue. This use of colour visually enhances the presence of these two elements essential to the painting’s meaning. In its reference to the One Thousand Autumns, the title of the work itself expresses a birthday wish. Longevity, shou, 壽 is referred to by the lingzhi 靈芝 immortality mushrooms and the pines; good fortune, fu 福, by the bat, fu 蝠; and prosperity, lu 祿, by the deer, lu 鹿. Together they form the triad fu, lu, shou, a visual synthesis of the wishes that can be made on a birthday.