Four iron paintings, tiehua

China, Qing dynasty, 18th century

Height incl. frame: 16 1/2 inches, 42 cm

Width incl. frame: 13 inches, 33 cm

A set of four iron paintings, depicting respectively a gnarled branch of flowering prunus, chrysanthemums, orchids and a grapevine with bunches of grapes. The delicately rendered plants are all made of wrought-iron elements, which are crafted individually and bolted together. Each painting is contained within a hardwood frame with a ruyi-shaped metal handle.

These four panels of excellent quality are fine examples of the art of iron forging imitating ink painting, tiehua. The birth of tiehua is attributed to a Wuhu blacksmith, Tang Peng (also known as Tang Tien-chi, 1644 – 1722), who was inspired by Chinese ink paintings depicting landscapes by the painter Xiao Yun-Cong (1596 – 1673) and who vied to recreate these paintings in iron.[1] A smaller set of 18th century iron paintings of plants representing the four seasons, one of which is illustrated by Jenyns, is in the collection of the British Museum.[2] Another comparable set of iron paintings depicting four plants is in the John Reilly Jr. collection and illustrated in The Romance of Chinese Art.[3] A set of four iron paintings from the collection of the Shanghai Museum, dated to the 17th century, including one with comparable prunus branches, was included in the exhibition The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period at the Asia Society Galleries in New York in 1987.[4]

  1. Jenyns, R.S. and Watson, W., Chinese Art, vol. II, Phaidon, Oxford, 1980, p.104
  2. Jenyns, R.S. and Watson, W. op. cit., no. 72, p.104
  3. Hobson, R. L. The Romance of Chinese Art, 1929, Garden City Publishing, New York, pl. 46-6, p. 163
  4. Li, C. T. and Watt, J. C.Y. eds, The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period-An Exhibition from the Shanghai Museum, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1987, pp. 120-121, no. 68