Art/ Collection/ Art Object

北宋 米芾 草書吳江舟中詩 卷
Poem Written in a Boat on the Wu River

Mi Fu (Chinese, 1052–1107)
Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)
ca. 1095
Handscroll; ink on paper
12 1/4 in. × 18 ft. 3 1/4 in. (31.1 × 556.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., in honor of Professor Wen Fong, 1984
Accession Number:
Not on view
Sun Guoting's Manual on Calligraphy (687) states that calligraphy reveals the character and emotions of the writer. Few works demonstrate this principle as clearly as this handscroll by Mi Fu, the leading calligrapher of late Northern Song. Mi wrote Sailing on the Wu River with a suspended arm, working from the elbow rather than the wrist. It was not his aim to form perfect characters; instead, he entrusted his writing to the force of the brush, giving free reign to idiosyncratic movements, collapsing and distorting the characters for the sake of expressiveness. Su Shi (1036–1101) likened Mi's writing to "a sailboat in a gust of wind, or a warhorse charging into battle." Traditionally, calligraphy has been more highly esteemed in China than painting. In the 1950s when John Crawford began collecting it, most American scholars were unaware of its importance and the authenticity of many Crawford pieces was questioned. Today, these works are regarded as national treasures and the Metropolitan is the only leading museum in the West able to present major examples of this quintessential Chinese art form.
Inscription: Artist's inscription and signature (44 columns in semi-cursive and cursive scripts)

Yesterday’s wind arose from the west-north,
And innumerable boats all took advantage of its favor.
Today’s wind has shifted [and comes from] the east,
And my boat [needs] fifteen men to tow.
Their strength spent, I've hired more;
[But even] one hundred in gold they consider too little.
The boat crew, angered, begins to argue,
So the trackers, sitting down, stare and complain.
They've tried poles and again pulleys;
They have had to swallow the yellow gorge rising in their throats.
But the river mud seems to side with the trackers;
Stuck on the bottom, [the boat] won’t budge.
Paid more money, the men are no longer angry.
Expectations satisfied, all resentment disappears.
With a single pull, [the boat advances] like a wind-born chariot.
The men shout out, as if rushing into battle!
To the side I look toward the Yingdou Lake;
So vast, [seemingly] without bounds are its shores.
If even one drop cannot be drawn,
What use is the distant West River?
All things must find their proper time,
So why is it that you have come so late?[1]
Zhu Bangyan sent this paper from Xiuzhou [present-day Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province]. I wrote it in a boat on the Wu River. Mi Yuanzhang [Mi Fu]

朱邦彥自秀寄紙,吳江舟中作 。米元章

1. Wang Duo 王鐸 (1592–1652), 6 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1643 (in front of Mi Fu’s calligraphy):


2. Sun Kuang 孫鑛 (1542–1613), 13 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1591; 3 seals:

項子長在職方日,為余言李伯玉藏米數十字甚佳,因從乞觀。彼時余雖好書,然不甚解,頗有庾子嵩讀《南華經》意。比者家居七年間,研精書法,乃知古人作字,惟在用筆,因感憶米。及入都,復乞之伯玉,則煥若神明,頓改舊觀。黃鲁直快馬斫陣之喻,不虛也。古法皆懸腕緊捉筆。以余所見古法書甚多,可決其真者惟此。萬曆庚[庚字點去]辛卯重陽後十日餘姚孫鑛題。 [印] : 文融、孫鑛之印、游心太玄

Collectors' seals

Ming imperial palace 明洪武内府 (1373–1384)
? ? ? ? Si yin (half-seal) 囗囗囗囗司印 (半印)

Zhu Gang 朱棡 (Prince of Jin, 1358–1398)
Jin Fu shuhua zhi yin 晉府書畫之印
Jin Fu shuhua zhi yin 晉府書畫之印
Jin Guo kuizhang 晉國奎章
Qiankun qingwan 乾坤清玩
Jingde Tang zhang 敬德堂章

Qing emperor Qianlong 清帝乾隆 (r. 1736–1795)
Shiqu baoji 石渠寳笈
Sanxi Tang jingjian xi 三希堂精鋻璽
Yi zisun 宜子孫
Qinghe 清和

Qing emperor Jiaqing 清帝嘉慶 (r. 1796–1820)
Jiaqing yulan zhi bao 嘉慶御覽之寳
Jiaqing jianshang 嘉慶鋻賞
Baoji sanbian 寳笈三編

Qing emperor Xuantong 清帝宣统 (r. 1909–1911)
Xuantong yulan zhi bao 宣統御覽之寳
Xuantong jianshang 宣統鋻賞
Wuyi Zhai jingjian xi 無逸齋精鋻璽

Zhang Wenkui 張文魁 (20th c.)
Zhang shi Han Lu zhencang 張氏涵廬珍藏
Zhang Wenkui 張文魁
Han Lu Jiancang 涵廬鋻藏

Gu Luofu 顧洛阜 (John M. Crawford, Jr., 1913–1988)
Gu Luofu 顧洛阜
Hanguang Ge 漢光閣
Hanguang Ge Zhu Gu Luofu jiancang Zhongguo gudai shuhua zhi zhang 漢光閣主顧洛阜鋻藏中國古代書畫之章

[1] Translation after Peter C. Sturman, Mi Fu: Style and the Art of Calligraphy in Northern Song China, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997, pp. 115–116, and Kwan S. Wong, Masterpieces of Sung and Yüan dynasty calligraphy from the John M. Crawford, Jr. Collection. New York: China House Gallery, China Institute in America, 1981, p. 29.
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