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Painting

Green Mountains and White Clouds
Wu Li (1632-1718), Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
Handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 25.9 x 117.2 cm

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Wu Li (style name Yü-shan, sobriquet Mo-ching tao-jen) was a native of Ch'ang-shu, Kiangsu. He and Wang Hui were both students of Wang Chien and Wang Shih-min. These four artists are often grouped along with Wang Yüan-ch'i and Yün Shou-p'ing as "The Six Masters of the Early Ch'ing," or as "The Four Wangs, Wu, and Yün." His rich yet fine style was closest to that of Wang Chien, and, in his search for the masters, he was particularly influenced by the manners of Wang Meng (1308-1385) and Wu Chen (1280-1354). After 1679, however, Wu Li converted to Christianity and later entered the Jesuit order. He was ordained in Macao in 1688 and devoted the rest of his life to missionary activities in Nanking and Shanghai.

In this work done in 1668 at the age of 36, layers of peaks with white clouds swirl around the valley alive with green vegetation that almost appears dripping wet. The lake expands to meet the sky in a scene dotted with village buildings, a temple, and crows--suggesting the silence and grandness of nature. Wu Li's landscape style was based on a careful study and thorough understanding of the early masters. He was particularly skilled at the archaic "blue-and-green" style of landscape painting. In this genre, he approached the achievements of the Sung and Yüan masters. Although this handscroll was executed in bright, opaque pigments of blue, green, red, and white, there is no sense of confusion or muddiness in the coloring. Wu Li has created an exquisitely natural work filled with movement and spirit.
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