Handscroll, ink on Korean paper
Painting only: 38.4 x 136.8 cm (15 1/8 x 53 7/8 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1959.46
Perhaps the most visionary artist in pre-modern China, Dong Qichang made a tremendous impact on the artistic practices of later generations of painters as well as their attitude toward the historiography of Chinese art. As a leading literati artist and art critic, Dong’s works of art and writings express "literati aesthetics" that emphasize art as a vehicle of self-expression, rather than merely craftsmanship evoking illusionism or realism.
Dong theorized that the artistic tradition of emulating old masters’ styles, which Chinese painters had practiced for many centuries, was integral to artistic creativity. All the pictorial components—trees, rocks, hills, streams, and bridges diagonally placed across the handscroll—do not serve to represent a specific recognizable place or evoking illusionism, but rather they exhibit Dong’s intellectual configuration of brush and ink that evoke some of the esteemed earlier literati artists he admired.
The paper Dong used for this work was part of a roll of paper that had been presented to the Chinese emperor from the king of Korea in 1573. A short note by the Korean king is still visible despite Dong’s attempts to erase it. The colophon at the far left, in fact, testifies to Dong’s love for Korean paper: “Each time Dong Qichang encountered the mirror-smooth Korean paper, his calligraphy and painting became even more inspired.”
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