Zha Shibiao was born in Xiuning,
Anhui province. After the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, he gave up his
promising official career. He was known as a painter, calligrapher and
connoisseur and was grouped with Hongren (1610-64, cat. 15) as one of the Four
Masters of Anhui. Zha Shibiao's early and late works were the closest to
Hongren's dry sparing brushwork. Zha Shibiao, who lived and worked in Yangzhou
late in his career, helped set the stage for that city to become an important
painting center in the eighteenth century.
Although it is not dated, this
painting with its extensive use of washes is typical of the middle part of Zha
Shibiaos painting career. He provides an extremely vertical format with tall
trees and steep rock faces. He has signed the painting The Daoist of Plum
Gully, Shibiao (Meihe daoren shibiao)
with two seals reading Meihe
and Zha erxuan. The inscribed
poem is a pentasyllabic quatrain that can be translated:
clear stream at the gully's mouth,
the stone path I enter the cold forest.
is late as I approach the front of the mountain,
stream flows off into the distance.
A single scholar stands in the
bottom right foreground gazing out over the water and up into the steep
mountains. Perhaps he is on his way to the temple or house at the end of the
path that follows along the waterfront.