Beginning in the early Qing dynasty, southern Anhui was dominated by a school of painters who took the splendor of the local Mount Huang as their principal subject. The style of the Xin'an school, as they came to be called, grew out of the stark and linear manner inspired by Ni Zan and Dong Qichang, combined with an emphasis on semiabstract forms well suited to render the rectilinear, flinty rock surfaces of the nearby mountains. The central and perhaps most original figure in this group was Hongren. Peaks and Ravines at Jiuqi, less severe and geometricized than his other works, is a monumental landscape despite the artist's self-imposed limitations. The sparse trees growing from the rocky crevices and the path leading up to a simple pavilion invite imaginary engagement with a gaunt and barren natural world.
  The best works of the Individualists engage the viewer in visionary worlds of overwhelming power and presence. Whereas the Orthodox masters explored a canonical past of styles on which they could comment knowingly, the Individualists sought pictorial devices that would enhance the visual impact of their images. With Gong Xian, the key figure in the Nanjing school of painters in the early Qing, the search extended to the European pictorial tradition seen in paintings and prints brought to China by Jesuit missionaries. In Summer Mountains after Rain the use of light and shade, as well as air and space, cannot be accounted for by Chinese precedents alone. The indistinct and overlapping brushstrokes on the slopes resemble a Western-style stippling effect, and the strange and ambiguous areas of light, setting off the tree groves, seem equally foreign in Chinese landscapes. But Gong used European illusionistic devices not to portray a rational environment but to create somber and unsettling otherworldly visions. Gong lived through the throes of dynastic change, and this landscape, which is at once airless, menacing, and claustrophobic, can be read in terms of anti-Manchu sentiment and loyalty to the fallen Ming regime.
  As a descendant of Ming royalty living under Manchu rule, Bada Shanren was a yimin, a subject left over from the fallen dynasty. Probably to deflect any suspicion of political intentions, Bada became a Buddhist monk. His symptoms of extreme madness may have been feigned for further protection, or may be evidence of genuine derangement. The enigmatic nature and pronounced originality of paintings such as this, which he completed at the age of seventy-one, are appropriate visual analogues to his bizarre behavior. In this painting, which depicts two ducks engaged in a fierce staring contest, Bada manipulates his subject to achieve intense personal expression through unexpected juxtapositions in composition, brushwork, and inkwash. Unlike the other Individualists, Bada did not often paint landscapes but rather concentrated on the depiction of birds and fish that expressed intense, enigmatic human emotions. He places them amid rocks and plants that are distorted, disproportionate in size, and seemingly unanchored in space. Here the off-balance poses and cryptic interaction between the two ducks, the rock hovering in space, and the way the contours of rock and lotus stalks repeat and intersect as they twist upward, confusing mass and space, give vivid expression to Bada's "madness" and to his sense of a world out of joint.
  Yuanji, like Bada Shanren, was a descendant of the Ming royal house and also sought refuge from political trouble in the Buddhist church. Because he was much younger, the fall of the Ming was less traumatic for him, and he accommodated to Manchu rule. In sharp contrast to Dong Qichang and his followers, Yuanji renounced the use of ancient styles as prototypes and advocated a radical originality, a "method that is no method." Pure Sounds of Hills and Streams brings these concerns to the fore. The surface is enlivened through the heavy application of dots that seem to vibrate away from the solid masses, conveying a state more psychological than physical. The work was probably painted during his years in Nanjing, 1680-1687, when he came into contact with the work of Gong Xian, whose paintings from the 1680s feature a dotting technique similar to that of Yuanji.