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Painting

After Wang Wei's "Snow Over Rivers and Mountains"
Wang Shih-min (1592-1680), Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
Handscroll, ink and colors on paper, 133.7 x 60 cm

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Wang Shih-min, a native of T'ai-ts'ang in Kiangsu, was the grandson of Wang Hsi-chüeh, prime minister in the late Ming dynasty. Wang Shih-min's father, Wang Heng, served as a Hanlin Academy editor for the court. Wang Hsi-chüeh often associated with famous scholars of the day and once invited the renowned Tung Ch'i-ch'ang and Ch'en Chi-ju to study with Wang Heng. Wang Shih-min, not surprisingly, grew up in this refined atmosphere of scholarship and art. Starting from a tender age, he was introduced to the study of painting and calligraphy. In 1614, he went to the capital and began his rise in officialdom. At the age of 48 while on an official trip to Fukien, however, he fell ill due to exhaustion in Nanking. He thereupon resigned and took to seclusion in the suburbs of T'ai-ts'ang at Hsi-t'ien (where the Ming emperor had awarded land to his grandfather). During this period, Wang Shih-min immersed himself in art and created numerous works. He became known as one of the Four Wangs and dominated orthodox painting in the early Ch'ing dynasty.

Wang's family collection of art included numerous masterpieces and new pieces were often sought. Consequently, he became an art connoisseur. In 1624, he was promoted at court and resided at the capital for several years. While there, he had the opportunity to see a Wang Wei painting entitled "Snow Over Rivers and Mountains" in the collection of fellow official Ch'eng Chi-pai. At around 1632, Tung Ch'i-ch'ang also acquired a Wang Wei painting entitled "Snowy River." Tung Ch'i-ch'ang and the Four Wangs often imitated the styles of the ancients by capturing their ideas and spirit rather than their exact techniques. This painting is a recreation of the archaic elegance and harmony associated with the T'ang style of Wang Wei based on paintings in Wang Shih-min's collection and those that he had seen. Not a strict copy per se, Wang had has freely adapted the coloring, brushwork, and composition of various Sung and Yüan masters to create this masterpiece of Ch'ing orthodox painting.

This work was done in 1668 at the age of 76. The mountain in the background appears to lean to one side, creating a sense of energy and instability that enlivens the painting. It was also done with more elegant lines and washes than texture strokes. Despite the warm coloring of this winter scene, the use of white pigment accords well with ancient techniques for representing snow. The pure and elegant brushwork, combined with the subdued coloring and forceful composition, represents a lyrical recreation of the so-called "blue-and-green" wash style of landscape painting from the T'ang dynasty (618-907).
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