Friday, June 20, 2008

Whiling Away the Summer

This is a detail from Whiling Away the Summer (1679) a handscroll by Wu Li (1632-1718). What an enticing image of scholarly retreat! As the Met's curators say, 'there is a dreamlike quality about the painting: birds, trees, bamboo, mist, and even rocks dance joyously around the hermit-scholar, who sits quietly reading in his idyllic domain.' Wu Li wrote that he had painted this landscape 'one clear morning after a rainfall, sitting alone in his studio thinking of an absent friend'.

This work is labelled 'Landscape as Self-Portrait' in the Met's exhibition How to Read Chinese Paintings. Some other highlights:
  • Scholar Viewing a Waterfall by Ma Yuan (act. ca. 1190–1225) where the "one corner" composition contrasts the solidity of rocks and trees, to the misty emptiness beyond the falls. It is similar to Watching the Deer by a Pine-Shaded Stream, which I referred to in an earlier post.
  • Twin Pines, Level Distance by the artist-calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), a landscape which one might describe as having been written... Zhao advocated different writing styles for different landscape elements - unmodulated seal script for trees, 'flying white' cursive script for rocks.
  • Poet Strolling by a Marshy Bank by Liang Kai (act. 1st half C13) in which the inaccessibility of the distant landscape is emphasised by a massive overhanging cliff, partially obstructing the poet's view.
  • Old Trees, Level Distance by Guo Xi (c 1000-90), a misty 'landscape of emotion' according to the Met, who quote from the impressively titled treatise Guo Xi wrote, Linquan gaozhi (Lofty Ambitions in Forests and Streams): 'after the outlines are made clear by dark ink strokes, use ink wash mixed with blue to retrace these outlines repeatedly so that, even if the ink outlines are clear, they appear always as if they had just come out of the mist and dew.'

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