[*Written for a Late Imperial Chinese Art Course during my undergraduate studies at UWSP]
ATTRIBUTION PROBLEM ASSESSMENT:
When first comparing this horse work to the example given called Fat and Lean Horses, my initial reaction was that this piece was not done Ren Renfa, but in the style of Ren Renfa. Horse painting gained in popularity during the Yuan as another form of painting to escape the Mongol rule and make references to the Tang dynasty. The horse is regarded as a symbol of vitality, vigor, and nobility. To the Tang rulers, the horse was a symbol of power and prestige. Horses reflected the military might of the Tang Dynasty and were treasured by the imperial elite.
After some further research into the accredited works of Ren Renfa and his horse paintings, this uncovered the fact that he uses a basic standardized set of poses for the horses to help keep consistency between his horse works. This also helped distinguish which of the works were truly his due to the distinctive perspective of the poses in which the horses were placed.
Two great examples to compare of Ren Renfa’s other horse works and the consistent posing would be “Nine Horses” and “Chuyu Tu (Grooms Out With Horses)” . What is noticeable first between Nine Horses and Chuyu Tu and the supposed attributed piece is that they all share a common factor with one horse and his distinctive frontal pose. Then dissecting the pose further, one hind leg slightly lifted off the ground hoof pointed downwards. The head is lilting slightly to the left and the fine controlled individual hairs of the mane flowing over both sides of the neck and parting neatly at the top of the head down the middle, and the horses ears pointed up and back in an alert gesture matching the focus of the eyes directly fixed out on the viewer. Even the nostrils on the muzzle of the horse are done the same with the accentuated repetitive lines beneath the circular formation of the nostrils. Then looking at the other horses compared to the accredited piece, the harness with the brightly painted red tassel of the horse on the far right in the Chuyu Tu ( Grooms Out with Horses) is repeated with the same brightly painted red tassel decoration on the harness of the accredited horse piece.
The posing of all 3 of these horses along with the decision of details except the color choices of the horses coat and mane are entirely exact in every way. Each of these horses gives off the sense that, despite their state of stasis and repeated pose, they have an expression, movement, and spirit to them. Keeping all of this in mind, this leads to the conclusion that this horse painting was done by Ren Renfa due to the consistent similarities in all of Ren Renfa’s horse pieces compared to this piece.