Fans and their Audiences in Late 19th century Shanghai: The Urban Bird-and-Flower Fan Paintings of Ren Bonian (1840-1896)

Talk by Roberta Wue, University of California, Irvine

Friday, April 11, 2014
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
10367 Bunche Hall

In nineteenth-century Shanghai, fan painting came to epitomize the prosperous city’s highly visual culture of commerce and display.  Bird-and-flower subjects were a popular choice in fan format; one of the most prominent painters of the period, Ren Bonian (1840-1896), established his reputation with images of Shanghai flora and fauna in the form of both folding and screen fans.  In his hands, bird-and-flower imagery took on especially urban overtones by representing the city via natural metaphors and also by using strategies that appealed to a Shanghai fascination with pleasure and play.  Fashionable, decorative and much sought-after, Ren Bonian’s bird-and-flower fan paintings were mobile and especially urban paintings, functioning as personal accessories, alluring paintings, and coveted commodities for a bourgeois and merchant audience.   

Roberta Wue is an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of California, Irvine.  She specializes in the art and visual culture of late Qing and twentieth-century China, with an interest in issues of audience and artist identities.  Wue received her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 2001, and has published articles on painting, photography and advertising in nineteenth-century China.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies