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White Square Painting with the Shepherd Boy Riding a Cow,Xiang Embroidery

Late Qing Dynasty


Llength: 41cm, width: 32cm.

The embroidery square painting of “the Shepherd Boy Riding on the Cow” using white satin as its background, which was painted by Yang Shizhuo and embroidered by Yang Peizhen, is an early masterpiece of Xiang (an official abbreviation of Hunan Pronvince) embroidery. The shepherd boy located at the center of the painting, is surrounded by a cow, swallows, weeping willows, and several islets. The poem on the top left corner reveals the theme of the painting. This embroidery mainly involves a variety of stitch techniques such as flat stitch and piled stitch where the threads used are delicate in texture and elegant in color. The work is of exquisite workmanship, ranking the top among Xiang embroideries and also a representative work of the early period of Xiang embroidery. 

Yang Shizhuo (1843-1911), born in a family of scholar in Ningxiang, Hunan Province, was a prominent Xiang embroidery painter in late Qing Dynasty. Since his childhood, Yang studied Chinese culture diligently, being good at making poems. He also inherited the family skill in Chinese ink-and-wash painting and did well in painting birds, animals and portraits. Despite his literary cultivation and artistic talent, Yang was not interested in seeking an official career. Instead, he spent his youth traveling around in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces(in East China), learning from artists, making many friends, viewing and emulating masterpieces of painting and calligraphy, which broadened his horizon greatly. At middle age, he returned to his hometown and combined embroidery with painting in practice. Meanwhile, he opened a school, delivering the skills in embroidery, painting and carving to apprentices coming from different areas, which enormously boosted the development of Xiang embroidery. Yang cultivated many excellent artists, among who were the renowned Xiao Yongxia, Yang Housheng and Yang Peizhen. 

Yang Peizhen, the granddaughter of Yang Shizhuo’s brother, studied the embroidery after Yang Shizhuo since 18. In 1993, her embroidery work-- the portrait of Roosevelt was exhibited in an exposition held in Chicago, which attracted a lot of attentions there for its vividness and exquisiteness. After the exposition, the work was sent to Roosevelt as a gift at the name of Hejian, the then chairman of Hunan Province. Now, the portrait is collected in the Museum of Alexandria in Chicago. 

Xiang embroidery is a general term of embroideries made in Hunan area. Based on the Hunan folk embroidery techniques, it absorbed the characteristics of Gu (in Shanghai) and Yue (Guangdong) embroidery, gradually forming its own unique system. Xiang embroidery experienced its heyday at the end of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and in the early Republic of China (1912-1949), when a large number of embroidery artists emerged.


According to some historical records in Qing Dynasty, women then in Changsha were generally engaged in embroidery. While some ladies from noble families may just do that for killing time or showing off, most ordinary women then used embroidery to decorate their household articles such as shoes, pillow, handkerchief, bellyband and curtain. Those works were plain and simple, giving full expression to their lifestyle. At the end of Qing Dynasty, Xiang embroidery developed into a widespread craftsmanship with unique features.