Fan Kuan (范寬, fl. 990-1020) was a Chinese landscape painter during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Fan is listed as the 59th of the 100 most important people of the last millennium by Life magazine.
Fan Kuan painted a 206.3 cm (about 6.75 feet) landscape known as the Travelers among Mountains and Streams, which is considered one of the finest landscape paintings produced by a Chinese artist. It also became a model for other Chinese artists. Fan based the painting on the Daoist principle of becoming one with nature. When looking at the painting, the viewer realizes how small he or she is compared to the big picture of nature. The painting focuses on the big picture of nature and the world as a whole instead of the individual. The historian Patricia Ebrey explains her view on the painting that the:
...foreground, presented at eye level, is executed in crisp, well-defined brush strokes. Jutting boulders, tough scrub trees, a mule train on the road, and a temple in the forest on the cliff are all vividly depicted. 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 it is easy to imagine them overpowered by the magnitude and mystery of their surroundings. (Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 162–163.)
Fan Kuan modeled his work after that of the artist Li Cheng (李成, 919–967) but later concluded that nature was the only true teacher. Fan Kuan spent the rest of his life as a recluse in the Shanxi mountains. Little else is known of his life, except the admiration and love he had for viewing the mountains of northern China.
Artworks by Fan Kuan (view the entire painting gallery)