Ren Yi (1840-1896) moved to Shanghai in 1868 where he became
the leading figure of the ‘Shanghai School’.
This term describes a set of painters working in Shanghai who broke
away from the accepted 19th-century style of painting. Purchasers
in Shanghai had tastes which allowed artists to break from art historical
tradition, as they were often merchants or from abroad.
Previously, landscape was the dominant subject matter and colours
were largely restrained. Ren Yi was well known for depicting unusual
subjects, such as heroes from theatre and legend, painted in an
His pupil Wu Changshuo, who added the calligraphy to this
painting, was also a painter and seal carver.
The God of Longevity (Shoulao) is one of a triad of Chinese
gods, along with the Gods of Salaries and Happiness. Shoulao always
has the face of an old man, with a white beard and eyebrows and a
large bald head. Usually he is seen leaning on a gnarled stick with
the peach of immortality in his hand.
This painting also has the informal title “Winter and Spring” which
may refer to the two figures: she with her youth and blossoming branch
of rejuvenation and he with his old age and gnarled stick. In China,
old age is not regarded negatively, but as a great blessing, and the
God of Longevity is greatly honoured at the birthdays of the elderly.
He is reputed to decide the date of everyone’s death – no small responsibility.
The calligraphy, added later in 1919, roughly translates as “Beauty
extends the years”.