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Painting

Forest Chamber Grotto at Chü-ch'ü
Wang Meng (1308-1385), Yüan dynasty (1279-1368)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper, 68.7 x 42.5 cm

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Wang Meng (style name Shu-ming; sobriquet Huang-ho shan-ch’iao, Hsiang-kuang chü-shih), a native of Wu-hsing (modern Hu-chou, Chekiang), was a grandson of the famous artist Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322). In the early Ming, Wang Meng was implicated in the case of Hu Wei-yung and subsequently died in prison. His painting followed the styles of Wang Wei (701-761), Tung Yüan (fl. first half of the 10th c.), and Chü-jan (10th c.), establishing a style of his own and becoming one of the Four Great Masters of the Yüan along with Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354), Wu Chen (1280-1354), and Ni Tsan (1301-1374).

This painting represents scenery around the Forest Chamber Grotto at Lake T’ai. The fascinating grotto, layers of twisting landscape forms, dense trees, scattered buildings, and waves fill the surface of the painting, presenting a bold interpretation that goes beyond the appearance of natural scenery. The composition is so dense that it appears almost claustrophobic. However, Wang Meng cleverly manipulated areas of form and void to create a visual passage in the upper right corner. Thus, the view extends into the background and opens the composition to prevent a closed atmosphere. Wang used “ox-tail” texture strokes to delineate the landscape forms and long “hemp-fiber” strokes for the tree trunks. Combined with the dense “moss” dots, the brushwork is notable for its variety and finesse. Layers of ink washes were also added to create a distinction between light and dark. Finally, Wang Meng used touches of ochre and red to provide this painting with an aura of autumn.
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