Image (each leaf): 10 7/8 x 9 1/2 in. (27.6 x 24.1 cm)
The Sackler Fund, 1972
Not on view
In the mid-1690s, after a life of wandering, Shitao settled permanently in Yangzhou, a bustling commercial city on the Grand Canal that eclipsed Suzhou during the eighteenth century as the most vigorous economic and cultural center in China. Renouncing his monastic vows and taking the name Dadizi, or "Greatly Purified One," Shitao turned to painting as his sole means of support.
In Wilderness Colors, each leaf offers something unexpected, not only in the painter's choice of subject and compositional arrangement but also in the subtle wit and touching personal insights revealed in the verbal and pictorial imagery. Many of the leaves were inspired by Du Fu (712–770) and Li Bo (701–762) of the Tang dynasty (618–907); others refer to personal experiences. In late-seventeenth-century criticism, an excess of technical versatility in painting was considered as bad as "overcooked" food. Shitao's lighthearted account of eating vegetables raw reveals his intention to maintain an uninhibited style all his own.
Once Wang Anjie* presented me with a poem, saying: "Get some spring water in your copper bowl and roast some taro on the earthen stove." He truly understood me. But what a laughable, uncouth person I am! This year I greedily obtained some huge taro roots. They were too large to be roasted in a short time, so I ate them all partly raw. Can you guess what the temperature is inside my stomach?
Signature: Each leaf inscribed by the artist: a) Moonlight Geese Wild geese lead away a mournful heart, But mountains bring back a full moon in their teeth. From "Climbing Yueyang Lou with Mr. Xia" by Li Bo 1701-762] Signature/ seal of artist: Shi Yuanji yin (intaglio, square)
b) Taro Root Once Wang Anjie* presented me with a poem, saying: "Get some spring water in your copper bowl and roast some taro on the earthen stove." He truly understood me. But what a laughable, uncouth person I am! This year I greedily obtained some huge taro roots. They were too large to be roasted in a short time, so I ate them all partly raw. Can you guess what the temperature is inside my stomach?
Signature/ seal of artist: 1. Bangehan (relief, tall rectangle) 2. Kugua (intaglio, tall rectangle) 3. Yuxi (relief, oval)
*Wang Anjie was the style name of Wang Gai (act. Ca. 1677-1705), the compiler and illustrator of the famous Mustard-Seed Garden Painting Manual, published between 1679 and 1701.
c) Riverbank of Peach Blossoms The mist parts and the fragrant breeze from the orchid leaves is warm; The riverbanks are lined with peach blossoms, rising like a brocaded wave. From "Parrot Island" by Li Bo [701-762] Signature/ seal of artist: Qianyu Longmian, Ji (intaglio, tall rectangle)
d) On Painting Bamboo Ruined leaves and sparse branches are best painted from life. Draw some high, some low, here and there, as if they had feelings. One need only face the bamboo alone and drink away for ten years; Then when the brush turns out the bamboo roots, you hear the swishing sounds. Signature/ seal of artist: Qingxiang Shitao (intaglio, tall rectangle)
e) Bird-Watching Glancing up, I linger on the birds, Turning around, I answer the wrong person. I have often followed the old gentleman, but have I also managed to "skip over the difficult word"? [Du Fu (712-770)]
Du Fu's lines, which describe the carefree scholar entranced by spring scenery, were followed by: "In reading books, I skip over the difficult word." Having shown us the birds, Shitao allows his mind to dwell on the line he does not reproduce. His comment might be taken to mean: "Have I survived the difficult in life?" Seal of the artist: Qingxiang laoren (relief, oval)
f) Spring breeze and gentle rain come to the window of my mountain lodge; Even now I paint peach blossoms in their colorful attire. I laugh at myself that, in spite of old age, I have not learned to live with leisure, and must still play with my brush to pass the time. Signature/ seals of artist: 1. Qingxiang laoren (relief, oval) 2. Xiazunzhe (relief, oval)
g) Wilderness Cottage The luster of bamboo encloses the wilderness colors, the reflection of a house ripples in the flowing river. [Du Fu (712-770)] Signature/ seal of artist: Qianyu Longmian, Ji (intaglio, tall rectangle)
h) Eggplants "Purple melon, purple melon—they have an exceptionally fine flavor. You tell me how much salt and pickle sauce they need. But I made a mistake. I picked them up and swallowed them raw, as if they were wild plants. I hope they will not sprout and take root inside me."
This apparently innocent still life conceals a strong political sentiment. The clue seems to be a saying by Confucius: "I hate the purple for taking the place of vermilion." Vermilion [Zhu] was the surname of the Ming royal house. Signature/ seal of artist: Zanzhi shishisun, Achang (relief, tall rectangle)
i) Geese by the Lake Wild geese from the lake fly in pairs—When the veterans return from the old northern campaign. [Du Fu (712-770)] Signature/ seal of artist: Qingxiang laoren (relief, oval)
j) Clouds Blocked by the Mountain It is good not to have any houses here, Yet to have mountains blocking the clouds. **[It is good not to have any houses here, so nothing obstructs the cloud-covered mountain.] *These words are unusual, and this painting is also raw! There is a feeling beyond feeling, and yet no hint of an ordinary painting. [the inscription adapts two lines from Du Fu** and adds a comment* of his own.] Signature/ seals of artist: 1. Laotao (intaglio, tall rectangle) 2. Yueshan (intaglio, square)
k) Pavilion Reflections at Sunset The water is calm—the pavilion's reflection is straight; the mountain in dusk—the sun slants across the frontier. [Du Fu (712-770)] Signature/ seal of artist: Xiazunzhe (relief, oval)
l) Orchid and Rock The stone god chips away, And moss dots descend from heaven; When speech is pure and quiet, It feels doubly open and clear. How long have the orchids grown along the path and flourished? Spreading a fragrance, each blossom is breaking through its calyx. The rock represents the ancestor, and the orchid the nation- They each have a deportment that is easy and gentle. For quiet and slow conversation and for picking as a present, I will use only the orchid.
I wait expectantly to express my private thoughts— Standing by my door I order myself a drink. Signature/ seals of the artist: Zanzhi shishisun, A-chang (relief, tall rectangle) Place of execution: Daditang, Yangzhou, Jiangsu
The inscription concludes with a full formal signature: "Qingxiang Shitao, Ji, painted under the Daditang [Hall of Great Purity]." Shitao's inscription is followed by a seal that records the painter's Ming imperial lineage: "A tenth-generation descendant of Prince Zan, Achang."
Note: The seals Qianyu Longmian, Ji, Qingxiang Laoren, Yüeshan and Zanzhi shishisun, Achang are late seals, the first three usually appearing on works dated between 1693 and 1703, and the fourth on works after 1701.