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Transmission and transformation: The art of imitation in Wang Yuanqi's Fuchun Mountains scroll


Introduction

Wang Yuanqi was the most innovative master of the Orthodox school of scholar-amateur painters in China during the early Qing dynasty (1644–1911). As the schools artistic heir, Wang upheld the Orthodox lineage, and was thus responsible for transmitting – while at the same time transforming – this lineage as a living tradition. Focusing on the National Gallery of Victoria’s Fuchun Mountains landscape handscroll, painted by Wang Yuanqi in 1699 and modelled on the famous handscroll Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, 1347–50, by Huang Gongwang, one of the four great masters of the Yuan dynasty we will discuss how Wang Yuanqi transformed the style of Huang Gongwang through the art of ‘creative imitation’.

Life of Wang Yuanqi and art historical ‘genealogy’

Born in 1642, Wang Yuanqi came from an established scholar-gentry family in Taicang, Jiangsu Province. His great-great-grandfather Wang Xijue (1534–1611) held a prominent official position, as a minister of the ‘inner chamber’ (nei ge) of the emperor, at the imperial court of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Wang Yuanqi’s grandfather Wang Shimin (1592–1680), who served as an official for a short time, was very influential in the art world. He learned painting from Dong Qichang (1555–1636), the most powerful and revolutionary scholar-amateur artist of the late Ming, and was Dong’s self-designated artistic heir. China’s unique class of scholar-amateur painters did not depend on patronage and were thus free to pursue painting as a form of self-cultivation and self-expression. Many scholar-amateurs belonged to the official class, the members of which were selected on the basis of merit, as determined by an examination system. As a young man, Wang Yuanqi received the traditional classical Confucian education, which led to a distinguished official career. He obtained the highest degree possible (jinshi) at the exceptionally young age of twenty-eight and, after serving in various provincial posts, was invited to serve at the court at Beijing in 1690. In 1712, he attained a prominent position as a senior official with the Board of Revenue, a post he held until his death in 1715. 

Wang Yuanqi was equally successful with respect to art. In 1700, the Kangxi emperor made him his artistic adviser. In this capacity, Wang authenticated paintings and calligraphy in the imperial collection and was often also asked to paint in the imperial presence. He was instrumental in establishing the Orthodox landscape style as the official style for court painters. In 1705, the emperor appointed him editor-in-chief of the Peiwen zhai shuhua pu (Imperial Encyclopedia of Calligraphy and Painting), which was completed and published in 1708. Wang himself wrote on the theory and history of painting, penning the essay ‘Yuchuang manbi’ (‘Scattered Notes at a Rainy Window’) shortly after 1700. Many of the inscriptions that accompanied his paintings were collected and published in the ‘Lutai tihua gao’ (‘Wang Yuanqi’s Inscriptions on Paintings’).1 For Wang Yuanqi, see A. W. Hummel (ed.), Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (1644–1912) (1943–44), Taipei, 1964, pp. 844–5; V. Brunst & J. Cahill, in The Dictionary of Art, ed. J. Turner, London, 1996, vol. 32, pp. 839–40; R. Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity: Chinese Paintings of the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Morse (exh. cat.), Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1969; J. Cahill, The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982, pp. 184–96. 

In his writings Wang Yuanqi tells us that in his youth, in the true amateur tradition, he did not receive any formal instruction: painting came to him as if by instinct. He simply learned by watching his grandfather and by studying old pictures in the family collection. When Wang could not concentrate on his studies, he would amuse himself by painting with brush and ink.2 See Wang Yuanqi, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, in Meishu congshu (1912–36), vol. 1, pt 2, eds Deng Shi & Huang Binhong, Taipei, 1960, p. 52. He heard from his grandfather of the late Dong Qichang’s theory of painting, and secretly decided that Dong was the teacher he would follow.3 ibid., pp. 39–40. Dong had divided the history of painting into the Northern school (academic and professional painters) and Southern school (scholar-amateur painters), with the latter designated as the ‘Orthodox’, or ‘legitimate’, lineage (zhengzong) of painting. The division was not geographic, but was based on an analogy with the division in chan (Zen) Buddhism: the ‘gradual enlightenment’ associated with the Northern school versus the ‘sudden enlightenment’ of the Southern school. The division was also Dong’s attempt to distinguish between art (scholar-amateur painting) and craftsmanship (professional painting).4 See J. Cahill, The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty, 1570-1644, New York, 1982, pp. 87–128; Ho Wai-kam (ed.), The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang 1555–1636 (exh. cat.), 2 vols, Nelson–Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, 1992. 

According to his inscription on The Wang-quan Villa, 1711 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Wang Yuanqi saw Dong as having ‘succeeded in sweeping away the web of confusion’ in the art of the previous three hundred years, and as having regained ‘artistic truth’, which over the period had from time to time been lost.5 Wang, cited in Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity, cat. no. 31. Wang further wrote that his grandfather had ‘personally inherited the [Orthodox] mantle [from Dong]’6 Wang, cited in Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity, cat. no. 31. – by implication, then, Wang himself, through his grandfather, was Dong’s successor as well as his disciple. 

Although Wang chose Dong as his role model, however, it was the style of Huang Gongwang, Dong’s source of inspiration, to which Wang truly devoted himself.7 See Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 51. One of the four great masters of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), Huang Gongwang was among the early painters classified by Dong as belonging to the Orthodox lineage, which had begun with Wang Wei (701–776), poet and painter of the Tang dynasty (618–906).8 For Huang Gongwang, see J. Cahill, Hills beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368, New York, 1976, pp. 85–113. Writing of Huang’s place within this lineage, Wang Yuanqi observed: 

In my youth, I heard the teachings of my late grandfather. Since that time, more than fifty years have passed. What I studied was the style of Huang Gongwang and what I am passing on is also the style of Huang Gongwang. The minute and subtle secrets of the continuing line [xuemo (literally ‘artery’, or ‘bloodline’)] of Huating [Dong Qichang] lie in this.9 Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 51. 

Wang further praised Dong as the only painter of the Ming dynasty who had attained the spirit or essence (shensui) of the style of Huang Gongwang, the effect being ‘like rising from eight dynasties of decline in literature’.10 ibid., p. 37.

Wang Yuanqi’s Fuchun Mountains and the art of creative imitation

Wang Yuanqi painted his handscroll The Fuchun Mountains in 1699 when he was fifty-seven years old (fig. 1).11 Handscrolls are horizontal scrolls: paintings on silk or paper that are viewed from right to left (in the same way as one reads Chinese texts) as they are unrolled. Looking at a handscroll is an intimate experience. The scroll is revealed portion by portion, so that, with each stage of the unrolling, about one arm’s length is exposed for viewing. Thus, as in a real journey, the reading of a handscroll is a progression through space and time. He accompanied his landscape with an erudite inscription at the beginning and end of the handscroll, in which text he discusses his source of inspiration, how and why a friend asked that he create this painting, and his own theories of art.12 Wang goes into considerable detail in presenting his theories of art. An analysis of the entire text of his inscription is beyond the scope of this article. 

As we read the handscroll, from right to left, the first element we encounter is the first inscription, which begins: ‘After [fang] the artistic conception [biyi (literally ‘brush conception’)] of Huang Zijiu’s [Huang Gongwang’s] long handscroll The Fuchun Mountains, Wang Yuanqi’. 

The inscription goes on to describe the artist’s meeting with his friend Huang Songyan, a learned man who was deeply interested in the paintings of the Song (960–1279) and Yuan masters. Huang Songyan brought a long scroll 

to Wang Yuanqi and asked him for a painting. Since he had heard that Wang had been studying the art of Huang Gongwang for years, Huang Songyan observed that in his painting Wang would ‘walk in step with Huang Gongwang’s Fuchun Mountains‘. 

Huang Gongwang painted Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains over a three-year period, between 1347, when he retired to the Fuchun Mountains, south of Hangzhou, and 1350, when he inscribed his handscroll (he presumably shortly thereafter stopped work on it).13 Cahill, Hills beyond a River, p. 111, notes that, in his inscription, Huang writes that he laid out the entire composition in one sitting and then filled in the details on and off over several years. The scroll was subsequently owned by two of the greatest Ming painters: Shen Zhou (1427–1509) and Dong Qichang; both made copies of it, as did numerous other artists. According to the scholar Fang Xun (1736–1801), writing in the eighteenth century: 

The copies of Huang Gongwang’s scroll Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains must number in the thousands or more, and all try to capture its wonders. Only Dong Qichang’s copy, although it doesn’t resemble [Huang Gongwang’s landscape] at all, at the same time resembles it exactly.14 Fang Xun, ‘Shanjingju hualun’, in Zhongguo hualun leibian, ed. Yu Jianhua, Hong Kong, 1973, p. 238. 

Huang Gongwang’s handscroll passed through the hands of a number of important collectors and came to be more famous and esteemed than any other Chinese painting. It now survives in two parts: the longer section, which entered the Qianlong emperor’s collection in the late eighteenth century, is in the National Palace Museum in Taipei (fig. 2); the opening section is in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou.15 See Cahill, Hills beyond a River, pp. 111–12.

Although Wang Yuanqi’s inscription says that his landscape was modelled after Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, what Wang refers to is not the slavish kind of imitation involved in accurately copying compositional elements and other superficial aspects of a painting. What is meant instead is a creative kind of imitation (fang), in which the follower is inspired by the work of the ancient master but at the same time brings his inspiration to the service of a new style of painting. As Wang himself wrote: 

In Huang Gongwang’s long handscroll The Fuchun Mountains, the brush and ink can be said to be like the transforming and creative operations of nature [huagong]. Those who use [this painting] as a model must do so by communicating with it in spirit [shenyu]. One must not pursue outward appearances [ji]. If, with regard to composition and the application of textured brushstrokes, one has investigated and studied to such an extent that one has mastered the method – and even if [these aspects of one’s work] resemble in external form … [comparable aspects of] Huang Gongwang’s painting – one has already been left behind in the dust. [In such a case] would it not be as though the great masters were restricting us?16 Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, pp. 26–7. 

Elsewhere Wang was to write: ‘Painters who simply comply with the rules, and express no ideas beyond the formulas, have ever since olden times been considered worthless fellows’.17 Wang Yuanqi, ‘Yuchuang manbi’, in Deng & Huang, vol. 1, pt 2, p. 22. According to Wang, an artist modelling a painting after the work of an earlier master should not be concerned with the superficial aspects of that work but should engage in ‘communication in spirit’ with his predecessor, penetrating the workings of his mind so as to discover the essence of his approach: the ideas, the concepts and the principles underlying his painting. 

Making further distinctions between direct copying and communication in spirit with a painting by an old master, Wang wrote:

Direct copying [lin] of a painting is not as good as looking at a painting. When one comes across a genuine painting by an ancient master, one should study and examine it very carefully. [One should] see how the ideas are fixed; how [it] is composed; how things move in and out; how they are slanted or straight; how they are placed; how the brush is used; how the ink is accumulated. There must be certain qualities that are superior to one’s own; after some time, one will quite naturally be in close harmony with [the earlier work].18 ibid., p. 20. 

In following this approach, Wang Yuanqi aimed to create a style of painting that resembled, and yet did not resemble, the paintings of the ancient masters.19 ibid., p. 31. Wang modestly said, after taking great pains with his study of the style of Huang Gongwang over fifty years, and having had both bitter and sweet experiences: ‘If it is said that I resemble the ancients, I dare not believe it; nor do I dare believe that I don’t’.20 Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 29. In an inscription accompanying another painting in the style of Huang Gongwang, he says something similar: 

In my youth, I waited on my late grandfather and I heard various theories of painting. I was also fond of brush and ink. Daubing here and smearing there, I have passed more than fifty years. At first I regretted that I did not resemble the ancients, but now I do not dare to resemble the ancients. Yet, as to the way [dao] of seeking to surpass the ancients, still I have not been able to attain it.21 ibid., pp. 37–8. 

Wang Yuanqi’s concept of fang he uses the term explicitly in the inscription on the Melbourne scroll – was derived from Dong Qichang, who first advocated the theory of transforming (bian or hua) the styles of the ancient masters. The concept probably came about as a reformative measure intended to regenerate (and restore) the scholar-amateur style of painting in the late sixteenth century. 

When asked whether such recent Ming artists as Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming (1470–1559) and Tang Yin (1470–1524) had captured the biyi of the ancient masters, Dong replied: 

The leading masters of recent times haven’t produced a single stroke that doesn’t resemble the brushstrokes of the ancient masters. But in not having any that don’t resemble, they have none that do resemble.22 Dong Qichang, quoted in Yuan Hongdao, ‘Yuan zhonglang ji’, in Yu, p. 129. Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610) was a friend of Dong Qichang. 

Dong advocated returning to the styles of the ancient masters for inspiration, using those styles in a creative manner by transforming them into a style of one’s own. He illustrated what he meant by referring to the history of calligraphy, pointing out how, as time passed, the styles of the famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi (321–379) and his son had ‘lost whatever vitality [they] once possessed’ until certain masters of the early Tang dynasty 

transformed (bian) their methods in such a way that they came to resemble [Wang Xizhi and his son] by not resembling them. It was as if Wang Xizhi and his son were being reborn. One can understand this statement only in a general sense. For straight copying [linmo] is the easiest, but, when it comes to spirit [shenqi], it is difficult to capture.23 Dong Qichang, ‘Huachanshi suibi’, in Yishu congbian, vol. 1, pt. 28, ed. Yang Jiale, Taipei, 1962, p.44. 

This theme of becoming the master of the ancients’ styles by making use of them, rather than becoming enslaved by them, persists throughout Dong’s writings. He constantly urged others not to worry about their work not resembling the paintings of the ancient masters, but to be bold and to try not to resemble them, so as to resemble them. 

In his Fuchun Mountains, Wang Yuanqi accomplishes this kind of creative imitation of the style of Huang Gongwang, through Dong Qichang and the art of transformation he advocated. 

Dong himself was Wang’s role model in bringing a creative approach to traditional styles and in transforming the style of Huang Gongwang. Wang once commented: ‘The paintings of Dong Qichang show little resemblance to Huang Gongwang’s paintings, but in bone structure and flavour they are purely of Huang Gongwang’.24 Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 39. 

Wang’s insightful observation is borne out by Dong’s landscapes River and Mountains on a Clear Autumn Day (Cleveland Museum of Art) (fig. 3) and Landscape, dated 1617 (National Gallery of Victoria) (fig. 4).25 Dong inscribed this painting: ‘In the dingsi year [1617], the 15th day of the 9th month, I painted this as a gift for the envoy Xuanyin in the Lezhi garden at Wulin’. The Cleveland handscroll carries Dong’s inscription: ‘[Huang Gongwang’s] River and Mountains on a Clear Autumn Day is like this. It is indeed regrettable that the old Masters cannot see mine’.26 Dong Qichang, cited in Ling-yun Shin Liu, H. Kleinhenz & Wai-kam Ho, in Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting: The Collections of the Nelson Gallery – Atkins Museum, Kansas City, and the Cleveland Museum of Art (exh. cat.), Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1980, cat. no. 191. 

What Dong had discovered in Huang’s landscapes was an underlying compositional framework, an abstract order of formal relationships and rhythmic dynamic movements. It was Dong who first discovered Huang’s mode of formal construction, which is concealed by the naturalism of his landscapes, and used it as the basis for his formulation of the principles of ‘proportioning’ and ‘uniting’: 

In painting landscapes, it is necessary to understand the principle of ‘proportioning’ [fen] and ‘uniting’ [he]. There is ‘proportioning’ of the whole painting and ‘proportioning’ within each individual section. If one understands these aspects, one has already grasped the larger half of the way of painting.27 Dong Qichang, ‘Huachanshi suibi’, p. 36. 

Proportioning, then, is the planning stage for uniting: the constructing of component parts – fitted like modular units – into larger composite structures. Land masses are built from repeated contours, which enclose smaller forms within larger ones. As Dong wrote: 

When the ancient masters worked on a large scroll, [they] made only three or four large ‘proportionings’ and ‘unitings’ and in that manner accomplished the whole composition. Although within the composition there are many small parts, the principal aim is to grasp the momentum [shi] of forms.28 Dong Qichang, Rongtai ji, vol. 4, Taipei, 1968, pp. 2105–6. 

Although Dong did not specify the ancient masters to whom he was here referring, we can safely assume that

Huang was among them: Huang noted in his inscription on Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains that he had laid out the composition in one sitting, and the land masses in his landscape are related to each other in the proper proportions. 

Stripping away the rich surface texture and the sensual experience of nature in Huang’s landscapes, Dong in his own paintings exposed the earlier master’s geometric approach to formal construction – and yet also created semi-abstract, introspective landscapes that appear radically different from Huang’s. Thus, in his creative imitation of the styles of the ancients, Dong himself implemented his paradoxical approach of ‘resembling by not resembling’. 

In seeing Dong as his link to the earlier master, Wang Yuanqi not only followed Dong’s creative approach to imitation but also saw Huang’s painting through Dong’s eyes. In works such as the Melbourne landscape scroll, Wang developed Dong’s discoveries about, and transformations of, Huang’s method of formal construction and brushwork (fig. 5). But Wang did not follow Dong’s highly individualistic and expressive device of irrationality, suited to the prevailing mood of insecurity in the late Ming.29 The late Ming was a period of political instability created by weak emperors, divisions among scholar-officials, and the usurping of power by eunuchs. Dong Qichang passed the civil examinations and rose to high official positions but his government service was interrupted by long intervals of retirement in his native city of Huating, in the south. Escaping from the political turmoil of the imperial court in the northern city of Beijing, he took a stand of non-involvement in politics and chose instead to play a dominant role in the world of art. 

Wang’s Fuchun Mountains also shows that he went back to the original Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains itself. Wang’s hills, for example, with their tops cropped by the edge of the scroll, and the boulders on the hillsides, resemble the same elements in Huang’s painting; the verisimilitude of Wang’s topography, however, suggests that he must also have returned to the actual mountains themselves for direct inspiration.30The present writer visited the Fuchun Mountains in the spring of 1985 and was awed by the monumental grandeur of nature. The steps that climb the mountains in Wang’s landscape are still there. I was also impressed by the thick clouds and mist in the landscape. His painting is certainly evocative of the misty rolling hills, the rivers and streams of the Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze River). Without any human presence, this quiet landscape of empty pavilions and villas is an ideal place of retreat for a scholar-recluse. 

Wang has also looked back to the origins of Huang’s style, his own sources of inspiration, and has made stylistic references to a number of artists who are included in Dong’s Orthodox lineage of scholar-amateur painters and who had influenced Huang. In the long inscription near the end of the Melbourne scroll, Wang makes this comment: ‘[Huang Gongwang] derived his strengths from blending together Dong, Juran, Jing, Guan, and the two Mi [Fu and Youren]’.31 Huang Gongwang, ‘Secrets of Landscape Painting’, cited in Cahill, Hills beyond a River, pp. 86–8, himself acknowledged the influence of Dong Yuan’s southern landscapes. 

Thus in Wang’s painting we find allusions to the gentle southern hills and the hemp-fibre texture strokes (mapi cun) in the paintings of Dong Yuan (c. 900–962) and Juran (active c. 960–980) of the tenth century; to the steep northern mountain faces in the monumental landscapes of Jing Hao (c. 850–880 – c. 915–940) and Guan Tong (active c. 907–923); and to the floating mist and the ink dots from the styles of the two Mi, of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.32 See O. Sirén, Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles, vol. 1, London, 1956, pp. 184–95, 208–15; vol. 2, pp. 1–38; vol. 3, pls 144–146, 160–170, 186–190. 

The extraordinary passage of mountain mist suggested by the blank surface of the paper and inspired by the Mi paintings appears so tactile and tangible that it seems to have more life force than the rocks and trees (fig. 6). Wang speaks of the life force in these empty areas of the paper in terms of the pulsation of the inhaling and exhaling life breath: 

The artists of the Song and Yuan dynasties all sought life breath [qi] in solid [shi] areas. Only Little Mi [Mi Youren] sought life breath within empty [xu] areas. Yet, in the ‘solid’ that is within the ’empty’, there is in each area [the breathing rhythm of] inhaling [hu] and exhaling [xi], calling and responding, subtle transformations and great vitality.33Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 42. 

Although drawing on the work of earlier masters, Wang’s landscape nevertheless has a tremendous sense of vitality and freshness. Painted at the beginning of the artist’s mature period, it is a germination of creative ideas. The brushwork is very spontaneous and animated, enriched with subtle tonal and textural gradations of ink. The sketchiness, inspired by both Huang and Dong, has a childlike quality – an apparent awkwardness highly regarded by scholar-amateurs as essential to the idea of the artist as amateur. From this point of view, an obvious display of technical skill and cleverness would have been vulgar: an artist indulging in such a display would be acting like a professional painter who painted for commercial gain. 

Wang Yuanqi34Wang, ‘Yuchuang manbi’, p. 18. was to reiterate the four qualities that, according to Huang Gongwang in his essay ‘Secrets of  Landscape Painting’, should be avoided in painting: ‘In doing paintings there are four words [i.e. qualities] that must absolutely be expelled: “heterodoxy” [perversity, arbitrariness], “sweetness” [prettiness], “vulgarity” [banality, bad taste], and “dependency” [derivativeness]’.35 Huang, ‘Secrets of Landscape Painting’, cited in Cahill, Hills beyond a River, p. 88. 

Dong Qichang, who maintained that Huang was the first artist who painted for pleasure, was even more dogmatic in defending scholar-amateur taste and values with respect to painting. Dong warned: 

The common paths of sweetness and vulgarity are to be avoided absolutely. A painting will then have a scholarly air. Otherwise, even though his painting may be up to standard, the artist is already falling into the pernicious course of the professional craftsman; [the work] is then beyond all hope and remedy. If a painter manages to rid himself of these bonds, he will be as free as a fish escaping the net.36 See Wen Fong, ‘Tung Ch’i-ch’ang and the Orthodox Theory of Painting’, National Palace Museum Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 3, January 1968, p. 6. 

Both Wang and Dong consciously renounce decoration, narrative, and display of technical skill: the characteristics of professional painters. The human figure, a reminder of the banal and ‘dusty’ world, should also be excluded,37 ‘Dusty’ is a Buddhist term for the worldly desires for wealth, fame etc. although tiny figures of fishermen and scholar-recluses are depicted in Huang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.

As a means of self-cultivation, a work of art had to be unassuming. Brilliance should be concealed and was usually associated with the other artistic pursuits such as poetry, music and calligraphy. Wang Yuanqi was the first to point out that the dao (way) of music was essentially interchangeable with that of painting and he drew a correspondence between the rhythmic patterns of music and the spacing of compositional elements in painting; between the rising and falling tones in music, and brush movements and ink tonalities: 

As for the way [dao] of music, it has never been the case that it is not interchangeable with the way of painting. The clearness, or the turbidity [qingzhuo], of sound is analogous to the qiyun of painting. The rhythmic regulation [pinjie] of music is comparable to the spacing of forms in the compositional structure [jianjia] of a painting. The rising and falling of sounds [chule] in music is comparable to the brush and ink in painting.38 Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, pp. 51–2. 

Originally a musical term, qiyun was the first of six criteria for painting formulated by Xiehe in the fifth century. Qi, an energy consisting of spirit and physical breath, is the vital creative force that permeates the universe. Qiyun is the resonance (yun) of this energy – a resonance that brings a silent pipe to music.39 See M. A. Pang, ‘Zhu Da, the Mad Monk Painter’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 25, [1985], pp. 52–4. 

Seen in these terms, Wang’s Fuchun Mountains, inspired by Huang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, is constructed from a system of semi-abstract forms, activated by dynamic rhythms expressing the creative energy of both artist and nature, rhythms analogous to – and as powerfully evocative as – those of music. The expressive formal qualities of the work are further enhanced by the nature of the handscroll itself: we read slowly from right to left, moving through time and space as we move through the landscape. 

Conclusion

Through the art of ‘creative imitation’, what Wang Yuanqi has transmitted and transformed from Huang Gongwang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains is the abstract formal construction of that work, as well as its dynamic rhythms, analogous to those of music. Wang has also transmitted the ideals and the aesthetic criteria of the scholar-amateur tradition, proclaimed as the Orthodox lineage of painting. It is as if ‘artistic truth’ is transmitted from mind to mind, in a way similar to the transmission of ‘spiritual truth’, through ‘self-realization’, in Zen Buddhism. Through creative imitation, the scholar-amateur tradition is preserved and recreated with new and fresh ideas. It is revitalized and regenerated. For Wang Yuanqi, by absorbing and transforming styles of the past he was fulfilling a role in history similar to that of Dong Qichang; in sweeping away ’empty mannerisms and pernicious currents’ in contemporary painting,40Wang, ‘Yuchuang manbi’, p. 17. he was a regenerative force in the transmission of the Orthodox tradition. 

Mae Anna Pang, Senior Curator of Asian Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2001).

Acknowledgments

I would like to, acknowledge Dana Rowan with special thanks, for improving my manuscript in so many ways, and for clarifying the discussion of some of the complex concepts in this article.  

 

Notes

Unless otherwise noted, all translations are by the author. 

1     For Wang Yuanqi, see A. W. Hummel (ed.), Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (1644–1912) (1943–44), Taipei, 1964, pp. 844–5; V. Brunst & J. Cahill, in The Dictionary of Art, ed. J. Turner, London, 1996, vol. 32, pp. 839–40; R. Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity: Chinese Paintings of the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Morse (exh. cat.), Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1969; J. Cahill, The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982, pp. 184–96. 

2     See Wang Yuanqi, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, in Meishu congshu (1912–36), vol. 1, pt 2, eds Deng Shi & Huang Binhong, Taipei, 1960, p. 52. 

3     ibid., pp. 39–40. 

4     See J. Cahill, The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty, 1570-1644, New York, 1982, pp. 87–128; Ho Wai-kam (ed.), The Century of Tung Ch’i-ch’ang 1555–1636 (exh. cat.), 2 vols, Nelson–Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, 1992. 

5     Wang, cited in Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity, cat. no. 31. 

6     Wang, cited in Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity, cat. no. 31. 

7     See Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 51. 

8     For Huang Gongwang, see J. Cahill, Hills beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279–1368, New York, 1976, pp. 85–113. 

9     Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 51. 

10     ibid., p. 37. 

11     Handscrolls are horizontal scrolls: paintings on silk or paper that are viewed from right to left (in the same way as one reads Chinese texts) as they are unrolled. Looking at a handscroll is an intimate experience. The scroll is revealed portion by portion, so that, with each stage of the unrolling, about one arm’s length is exposed for viewing. Thus, as in a real journey, the reading of a handscroll is a progression through space and time. 

12     Wang goes into considerable detail in presenting his theories of art. An analysis of the entire text of his inscription is beyond the scope of this article. 

13     Cahill, Hills beyond a River, p. 111, notes that, in his inscription, Huang writes that he laid out the entire composition in one sitting and then filled in the details on and off over several years. 

14     Fang Xun, ‘Shanjingju hualun’, in Zhongguo hualun leibian, ed. Yu Jianhua, Hong Kong, 1973, p. 238. 

15     See Cahill, Hills beyond a River, pp. 111–12. 

16     Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, pp. 26–7. 

17     Wang Yuanqi, ‘Yuchuang manbi’, in Deng & Huang, vol. 1, pt 2, p. 22. 

18     ibid., p. 20.

19     ibid., p. 31. 

20     Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 29. 

21     ibid., pp. 37–8. 

22     Dong Qichang, quoted in Yuan Hongdao, ‘Yuan zhonglang ji’, in Yu, p. 129. Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610) was a friend of Dong Qichang. 

23     Dong Qichang, ‘Huachanshi suibi’, in Yishu congbian, vol. 1, pt. 28, ed. Yang Jiale, Taipei, 1962, p.44. 

24     Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 39. 

25     Dong inscribed this painting: ‘In the dingsi year [1617], the 15th day of the 9th month, I painted this as a gift for the envoy Xuanyin in the Lezhi garden at Wulin’. 

26     Dong Qichang, cited in Ling-yun Shin Liu, H. Kleinhenz & Wai-kam Ho, in Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting: The Collections of the Nelson Gallery – Atkins Museum, Kansas City, and the Cleveland Museum of Art (exh. cat.), Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1980, cat. no. 191. 

27     Dong Qichang, ‘Huachanshi suibi’, p. 36. 

28     Dong Qichang, Rongtai ji, vol. 4, Taipei, 1968, pp. 2105–6. 

29     The late Ming was a period of political instability created by weak emperors, divisions among scholar-officials, and the usurping of power by eunuchs. Dong Qichang passed the civil examinations and rose to high official positions but his government service was interrupted by long intervals of retirement in his native city of Huating, in the south. Escaping from the political turmoil of the imperial court in the northern city of Beijing, he took a stand of non-involvement in politics and chose instead to play a dominant role in the world of art. 

30     The present writer visited the Fuchun Mountains in the spring of 1985 and was awed by the monumental grandeur of nature. The steps that climb the mountains in Wang’s landscape are still there. I was also impressed by the thick clouds and mist in the landscape.

31     Huang Gongwang, ‘Secrets of Landscape Painting’, cited in Cahill, Hills beyond a River, pp. 86–8, himself acknowledged the influence of Dong Yuan’s southern landscapes. 

32     See O. Sirén, Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles, vol. 1, London, 1956, pp. 184–95, 208–15; vol. 2, pp. 1–38; vol. 3, pls 144–146, 160–170, 186–190. 

33     Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, p. 42. 

34     Wang, ‘Yuchuang manbi’, p. 18. 

35     Huang, ‘Secrets of Landscape Painting’, cited in Cahill, Hills beyond a River, p. 88. 

36     See Wen Fong, ‘Tung Ch’i-ch’ang and the Orthodox Theory of Painting’, National Palace Museum Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 3, January 1968, p. 6. 

37     ‘Dusty’ is a Buddhist term for the worldly desires for wealth, fame etc. 

38     Wang, ‘Lutai tihua gao’, pp. 51–2. 

39     See M. A. Pang, ‘Zhu Da, the Mad Monk Painter’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 25, [1985], pp. 52–4. 

40     Wang, ‘Yuchuang manbi’, p. 17.