Traveling to Tianping Mountain
Traveling to Tianping Mountain

Catalogue 4

Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Traveling to Tianping Mountain, dated 1508, colophon by Wu Hufan (1894-1970)
Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 78 x 21.5 in.
2005.419

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 poems.

Four poems follow that describe the progress of the journey. The first may be translated:

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.