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Art of the Week: August 21, 2011
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"Travelers Amidst Mountains and Streams" by Chinese Artist Fan Kuan

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Fan Kuan (990–1020) was a Chinese landscape painter of the Song Dynasty. He is considered among the great masters of China's the 10th and 11th centuries. Kuan spent his life as a recluse in the rugged Qiantang mountains of Shanxi to base his paintings on the Taoist principle of becoming one with nature. No biographical details survive about Kuan. He was listed as one of 100 most important people of the last millennium by Life magazine.

Travelers Amidst Mountains and Streams, a large hanging scroll, is Kuan's best known work. It became a model for other Chinese artists as a seminal painting of the Northern Song school. When looking at the painting, the viewer realizes how small he/she is compared to the big picture of nature.

Fan's style - reducing human figures to minute proportions and dramatizing the awesome power of nature - has led critics to compare his creative powers with those of nature itself. The painting's foreground is executed in crisp, well-defined brush strokes. There is a suitable break between the foreground and the towering central peak behind, which is treated as if it were a backdrop, suspended and fitted into a slot behind the foreground. There are human figures in this scene, but they appear to be overpowered by the magnitude and mystery of their surroundings. Cultural China