Wen Zhengming, born Wen Bi, was
from Suzhou, Jiangsu province. He
was born into a family with a long tradition of successful scholar
officials. Wen Zhengming studied
classical literature, calligraphy and painting with the best teachers
available, including Shen Zhou (1427-1509, cat. 2). However, Wen Zhengming, failed in the examinations nine
times from 1485 to 1522. After the
tenth time in 1522 and because of his family’s reputation, he was given an
appointment in the prestigious Hanlin academy in Beijing. The appointment
lasted until 1527, when he retired. Throughout his life Wen Zhengming practiced and became known for his
poetry, painting and calligraphy. Late in his life he also became known for authenticating antiques, especially
old paintings and calligraphies.
This painting done fairly early in
Wen Zhengming’s career demonstrates a great variety of brushwork
techniques. The lengthy
inscription begins on the upper right-hand side with a prose description:
On the fifteenth day of the second
month of 1508, with [Wu] Ziming [Wu Guan] and [Chen] Daofu [Chen Shun
(1483-1544)] taking a boat we left Jiangcun River and arriving at Shangsha
unexpectedly met Qian Gongzhou [1475-1549] and Zhu Yaomin. Together we climbed Tianping [Mountain]
and drank at Baiyun ting [White Cloud Pavilion] and I consecutively wrote four
Four poems follow that describe the progress of the
journey. The first may be
Without cause from the dust of the
world, we travel in spring,
Leaving the suburbs, it is for the
sake of a laugh.
The fresh water is now high enough
for floating our boat,
The good mountains without a care
rise up like eyebrows.
The wind stirs up our hair, spring
gowns are thin,
Trees cover the stream with shadow,
the green canopy is thick.
The collected peach blossoms happen
to enter my thoughts [see Qiu Ying, cat. 5],
Beside Jiangcun River bridge, we
linger for a while.
Wen Zhengming, a master of the
“three perfections,” (see essay) has composed four poems, inscribed them in his
standard script, and painted a picture related to the poems described.
There are three other known
versions of this painting. However, mounted alongside this version is a long colophon, dated winter
1938 by Wu Hufan (1894-1970). He
was a painter and one of the most important connoisseurs of Chinese painting in
the twentieth century. Wu Hufan’s
praise for this image is confirmation of its authenticity.