A native of Shexian, Anhui Province, Wang Shishen moved to Yangzhou by 1709 and made the acquaintance of Ma Yueguan (1687-1755), a salt merchant also of Anhui origin who was to become a leader of local scholarly and artistic circles. Their friend-patron relationship was important to Wang's career.
Wang's painting is praised for its delicate touch and subtle lyricism, especially in his depictions of plum blossoms. Here they are rendered either alone or accompanied by other flowers. His terse, rhythmic brushwork contributes to the liveliness of all his floral images. Much rarer among Wang Shishen's extant works are landscapes. A major inspiration to him in this genre was Shitao (1642–1707), a celebrated master who lived in Yangzhou during the final decade of his life. Shitao's influence is particularly distinct in Wang's sensitive characterization of a lone wanderer in an atmospheric landscape.