Image: 18 1/16 x 112 3/4 in. (45.9 x 286.4 cm)
Overall with mounting: 18 7/16 x 363 11/16 in. (46.8 x 923.8 cm)
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1982
Not on view
Zhang Gong's grotto, a famous scenic spot and once the abode of Zhang Daoling (Zhang Gong; 2nd century A.D.), a patriarch of the Daoist church, is located near Lake Tai in Jiangsu Province, not far from the pottery center of Yixing. According to Daoist beliefs, such grottoes are wellsprings of nature's creative force and offer the potential for rejuvenation and renewal.
Shitao's painting of the grotto, done at the peak of his artistic powers, about 1700, is one of his most sumptuous masterpieces. Following an earlier composition by Shen Zhou (1427–1509), Shitao painted as if he were reenacting the cosmic process of creation: by building up layers of energized brushwork in flowery hues of sky blue, pale green, orange, and fuchsia, he transformed Shen Zhou's topographical likeness into a glowing image redolent of nature's procreative power. In a long poem at the end of the scroll, Shitao acknowledges the mystical Daoist attributes of the cave and playfully suggests that through his art he has captured both the cave and its creative force.
Signature: Inscription on painting:
"Picture of an Outing to Zhang Gong's Grotto, Qingxiang Shitao" Artist's signature "Qingxiang Shitao" Two artist's seals: Laotao (rectangular relief); Zanzhi shishi sun/ A-zhang (rectangular relief).
Artist's colophon (on separate sheet of paper):
No one is in Zhang Gong's grotto, But from inside Zhang Gong's grotto a spring breeze comes; Born to blow on tens of thousands of men. Although it causes the mysterious forces of creation to leak out, Such marvels are seldom spoken of by men. When most people talk about it they are always rather vague, Yet I must paint both its spirit and its principle. The cave is dark and melancholy like a strange person; Its restless nature compels the world to take notice. Once you escape into the deep mystery of the cave's interior, Its features appear like tigers and leopards. Do you not see? Repairing this crack [in the universe] was like writing a poetic essay; Nu Wa, refining the rock, spared no luxury. Adding trees and peaks to this mixture was like giving it wings; Elegant and refined, it looks like a polished gentleman. Cave, oh cave, now it is in my painting; Although it lies so still and hidden, yet its reds and purples are brilliant. It can be a landscape all by itself.
[signed] Qingxiang Dadizu, Ji wrote this
Colophon followed by four artist's seals: Toubai yinran bushizu (rectangular intagilo); Qingxiang laoren (oval relief); Gaomangzu, Ji (square, intaglio); Zan zhi shishi sun, A-zhang (rectangular relief). A fifth artist's seal placed alongside bottom of the first line reads: Dadizu (oval relief).
Inscription: Frontispiece with two undated inscriptions written on a single sheet of gold-flacked paper: 1. Ho Shaoji (1799–1873): four characters written in two lines of monumental regular script reading "Bitter Melon (Daoji) Expounds on the Law" [Gugua shuofa]. This is followed by seven lines of medium-size script : "Zhang Gong's Grotto [in beauty] is between Guilin's Laozhun and Qixing [Grottos], therefore its marvelous appearance is like this painting. Will Shouheng please tell me [if this isn't so]. [signed] Yuan."
Followed by two seals: "Ho Shaoji yin" (square, relief); "Zizhen" (square, intaglio).
2. Zhang Daqian (1899–1983) was added after the painting was published in 1955, in two lines of running script: "The Dafeng Tang respectfully offers the number one Shitao among the first class Shitao passed dow in the world".
Followed by two seals: (square, intaglio and square, relief).
Marking: Ho Shaoji (1799–1873) "Ho Shaoji yin" (square, relief); "Zizhen" (square, intaglio). Zhang Daqian (1899–1983) two seals: (square, intaglio and square, relief).
Twenty collectors' seals have been impressed elsewhere on the painting, colophon sheet and mounting.