Water Village

Water Village



Wen Boren 文伯仁

(Chinese, 1502-1575)

Handscroll, ink and light color on paper

Overall: 26.7 x 183 cm (10 1/2 x 72 1/16 in.)

The Kelvin Smith Collection, given by Mrs. Kelvin Smith 1985.370



In the autumn of 1570, Wen Boren painted this seemingly unemotional scene of low-lying marshlands with a chain of rounded mountains in the background. A fishing boat is nestled on the shore near the village. Although paths and bridges traverse the landscape, only two people are visible in the stillness.

From the restrained atmosphere of this landscape, one would never guess that Wen Boren was known as the “bad boy” of the Wu School for his explosive temper. As a younger man, he was even embroiled in a contentious lawsuit with his own uncle, Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), a master of Ming dynasty painting with whom he had trained. The ideal of the scholar-painter, or literati, was that an artist’s moral character is reflected in his paintings, so there was great incongruity between Wen Boren’s difficult personality and his restrained landscapes. A contemporary, Wang Shizhen, wrote this about him:

"This gentleman is prone to behave odiously and screamed accusations at people. How is it possible for him to carry in his bosom such a wealth of scenic wonders?"

Who knows what effort it took to subdue his fractious spirit to project an image of coolness and refined taste in his paintings?

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