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Solitary Colors of the Autumn Woods

Solitary Colors of the Autumn Woods

first half 1600s

Wang Jianzhang 王建章

(Chinese, active 1621-1662)

China, Ming dynasty


Hanging scroll, ink and color on satin

Image: 117.8 x 51.2 cm (46 3/8 x 20 3/16 in.); Overall: 227 x 81.3 cm (89 3/8 x 32 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1972.68



Two gentlemen stand outside a thatched hut in a dense forest; some trees have bare branches indicating that the season is early autumn. Wang Jianzhang’s inscribed poem refers to a chapter called “Autumn Water” from Zhuangzi, a famous Daoist text written in the 3rd century BC: "Cold frost falls on the fences, / Solitary colors scatter the maples. / Reciting the chapter of “The Autumn Water,” / I cannot still the emotion in my old heart." Wang Jianzhang lived through the collapse of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and the rise of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), when China was governed by the Manchus, an ethnic people from Manchuria who were traditionally viewed as “barbarians” by the Chinese. The poetic reference to Zhuangzi’s “Autumn Water” seems to discreetly convey Wang’s feelings about his country being taken over. “Autumn Water” was about learning to take steps in the foreign way, but not acquiring a foreign tongue. Perhaps Wang was lamenting his conflicted situation. For survival he had to adapt to the new political and social climate, while still trying to maintain his own identity and Chinese traditions.

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