Unidentified Artist Chinese, active early 12th century
Traditionally attributed to Li Cheng (Chinese, 919–967)
Song dynasty (960–1279)
early 12th century
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Image: 63 3/4 × 39 1/2 in. (161.9 × 100.3 cm)
Overall with mounting: 10 ft. 3 1/2 in. × 49 in. (313.7 × 124.5 cm)
Overall with knobs: 10 ft. 3 1/2 in. × 53 3/8 in. (313.7 × 135.6 cm)
Purchase, Fletcher Fund and Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 1972
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 210
During the tenth and eleventh centuries, majestic trees rivaled panoramic landscapes as sources of artistic inspiration. The hermit-painter Jing Hao (act. 900–930), for example, saw in the pine tree "the moral character of the virtuous man," while the preeminent landscape master Li Cheng (919–967) is said to have painted desolate scenes of winter because "men of virtue are now found only in the wilderness.
Travelers in a Wintry Forest follows a well-known composition by Li Cheng as described by Mi Fu (1051–1107) in his History of Painting. The scene is a microcosm of the natural cycle of growth and decay, with the great pine, symbolizing the virtuous gentleman, surrounded by trees ranging from youthful saplings to a shattered ancient hulk. The stoic silence of the wintry forest is matched by the unyielding spirit of the scholar on his donkey—the noble recluse who has entered the mountains to rediscover in nature the moral order that is lost in the human world.
Inscription: No artist’s inscription, signature, or seal
1. Zhang Daqian 張大千(1899–1983), 1 line and 2 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals:
A painting by Li Cheng, the best in the world, respectfully treasured in the Dafeng Tang Studio. Zhang Daqian, Yuan, of Shu [Sichuan]. [Seals]: Qian qian qian, Daqian fu