Except for this painting, there are no other known references to the artist Tan Song. According to his inscription, he was inspired by the brush idiom of the eleventh-century landscape master Guo Xi. But it is clear from the painting’s style, content, and date that Tan was a close follower of Yuan Jiang (act. 1680–1730) and Yuan Yao (act. 1730–after 1778) and may well have assisted them in the family studio. Tan’s painting is modeled on similar compositions by both of the Yuans that also invoke Guo Xi as their stylistic source and similarly feature heavily laden ox carts moving through the mountains. Yet in his eagerness to emulate these masters, Tan Song has created a caricature of their manner. In Tan’s hands the Yuans’ exuberant style of brushwork for defining landscape features has become a frothy profusion of nervous squiggles and curlicues that no longer describe substantial forms. The same tendency toward overelaboration is also apparent in the profusion of narrative elements and genre details that Tan has scattered throughout his composition, including two oxcarts whose illogical destination seems to be the crest of the central peak.
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (2 columns in semi-running script)