Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

  • Returning Home, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), ca. 1695
    Shitao (Zhu Ruoji) (Chinese, 1642–1707)
    Album of twelve paintings; ink and color on paper; Each painting leaf: 6 1/2 x 4 1/8 in. (16.5 x 10.5 cm); Each album leaf: 8 5/16 x 5 5/16 in. (21.1 x 13.5 cm); W. of double page: 10 5/8 in. (27 cm)
    Facing pages inscribed by the artist
    From the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection
    Gift of Wen and Constance Fong, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Dillon, 1976 (1976.280)

    Landscapes alternate with flowers in this album of twenty-four small leaves of paintings and poetic comments that is designed to be perused slowly, one pair of leaves at a time. Each painting and its accompanying poem were conceived as a single expressive image in a superb harmony of painting, poetry, and calligraphy. The paintings are "written" with the same type of brushstrokes as the calligraphy, while in the "painterly" calligraphy, individual characters and brushstrokes in varying sizes and ink tones frequently imitate such pictorial motifs as orchid petals and leaves and misty and wavy landscape elements. Even the painter's seals are integrated into the design. Shitao ("Stone Wave"), a scion of the Ming imperial family, became a monk and a painter after the Manchu conquest of 1644. After many years of wandering from place to place in the south and spending nearly three years in Beijing, he "returned home" to Yangzhou toward the end of 1692.

    Leaf 1

    Returning Home

    As falling leaves descend
      with the wind,
    I return by the water
      through a thinning mist;
    I see a tiny hut clinging
      to the bank of a green stream,
    How soft and fat the white
      clouds look in the cold air.

    The phrase from which Shitao develops his first line is luo ye gui gen, "fallen leaves returning to the tree root," expressing a person's yearning to return home in his old age. The painter perhaps also feels that his life is like can yan, in line 2, literally "shredded" or "worn-out" mist. (This album was painted late in 1695, when Shitao was on his way back to Yangzhou from a visit to Hunan and Anhui provinces.)

    The quality that Shitao wanted to capture in this painting is fei, the "fat" of bai yun fei (literally, "white clouds look fat") in line 4 of the poem. Here he appears to reflect the ideas of Gong Xian (ca. 1618–1689): "In painting a clouded mountain, the cloud must appear thick [hou].. For thirty years I failed to achieve this until I met a master who told me, "If the mountain is thick, the cloud will look thick … This is the painting of no-painting." Shitao's misty and wonderfully translucent landscape is composed of two types of brushstrokes: those forming the pine needles, and the softly rubbed texture strokes forming the mountain. The "fat" white clouds are merely blank spaces: the illusion of "fatness" is created by the misty forms around them. Shitao has transformed this earlier "blank-outline" technique into layers of softly rubbed, transparent brushstrokes. The deep and "fat" quality of the painting results from a subtle intermixing of brushwork and inkwash: different shades of dark and light strokes and textures, solid and void areas interpenetrate one another.

    The calligraphy, rendered in Zhong You's (151–230) "regular" script, is also smooth and "fat." The round and three-dimensional individual strokes seem to move and twist gently in space, like the falling leaves of the poem. The mood is serenely reflective.

    Shitao probably cut his own seals. The poem is signed "Shitao" ("Stone Wave") and is followed by a square intaglio seal, Shi Yuanji yin ("[disciple of] Shakyamuni Yuanji's seal"). The small rectangular intaglio seals on the painting read Shitao and Yuanji.

    This work of art also appears on 82nd & Fifth: Dream Logic and Connections: Poetry


    Not on view
    Move Separator Print
  • Returning Home, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), ca. 1695
    Shitao (Zhu Ruoji) (Chinese, 1642–1707)
    Album of twelve paintings; ink and color on paper; Each painting leaf: 6 1/2 x 4 1/8 in. (16.5 x 10.5 cm); Each album leaf: 8 5/16 x 5 5/16 in. (21.1 x 13.5 cm); W. of double page: 10 5/8 in. (27 cm)
    Facing pages inscribed by the artist
    From the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection
    Gift of Wen and Constance Fong, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Dillon, 1976 (1976.280)

    Leaf 2
    Plum Blossoms and Bamboo

    First it shows one or
      two blossoms,
    Gradually we see five or
      ten flowers;
    In a setting sun
      with brilliant clouds glowing
      in the distance,
    How the beautiful flowers
      compete with my brush and

    During the early Yuan (Mongol) period, scholar-painters developed, as symbols of enduring beauty, the theme of "three friends in winter"—the pine tree, bamboo, and plum blossoms—a theme which also became popular as a decoration on Yuan and Ming blue-and-white ceramic ware. By the seventeenth century, an expanded floral group known as the "four gentlemen"—plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo—had emerged. Here, in an album that requires six floral subjects, Shitao adds lotus blossoms (leaf 6) and narcissus (leaf 12) to the traditional "four-gentleman flowers."

    The aesthetic pleasure of planting and observing flo

    Leaf 3
    On the Mountain Peak

    High on the mountain
      the beautiful colors are cold,
    Where flying white clouds
      cease to look white.

    On this leaf, the master accomplishes the all but impossible task of suggesting the simultaneous effects of wind, movement, and frigid air, and he does so in an unusual way: in his "flying white" calligraphic technique, the ink is dry and thick as if frozen so that the "white" of the paper ceases to "fly" freely through the splitting hairs of the brushstrokes.

    For Shitao, the ultimate mountain scenery was always represented by the incomparable peaks of Mount Huang, the Yellow Mountain, in Anhui Province. By the time he lived there, in the 1660s, he had traveled all over southern China, yet until he saw the massive white clouds moving through the vast "seas" of flowers, trees, jagged cliffs, and blue abysses, he had never felt such infinite space. Here even a life of extreme solitude seemed to have meaning. This

    Leaf 4

    Words from a sympathetic heart
      Are as fragrant as orchids;
    Like orchids in feeling,
      They are agreeable and
      always joyous;
    You should wear these orchids
      To protect yourself
      from the spring chill;
    When the spring winds are
    Who can say you are safe?

    The first two lines are a quotation from The Book of Changes. Even in the earliest surviving Chinese literature, orchids are identified as junzi, or "virtuous gentlemen." A wild plant that grows in uninhabited mountain valleys, the orchid's fragrance has an aloof and disinterested quality that seems to recall a man of true virtue: it is said that dealing with good and decent people is like entering a room full of orchids; if a person ceases to be aware of the fragrance, it is because he has become such as person. The ancient Chuci ("Songs of the South"), on the other hand, speak of how

    Leaf 5
    A Despondent Man from Qingxiang

    A despondent man from
    Passes by looking
      for old friends;
    With no money to buy
      a mountain to live on,
    He sleeps peacefully, pillowing
      his head on his own fist;
    Though he has seen much,
      beyond many rivers and skies,
    He loses his heart to
      the Cun Caoting
      ["Inch-sized Thatched Hut"];
    In a light skiff you and he
      toured together,
    Not even a boatman was present
      to distract you.

    In early 1695, Shitao visited Wuling in Hunan Province—the famous "Peach Blossom Land" of Tao Qian (365–427). On his journey home, he found himself in the Yangzi River village of Baisha, near Yangzhou. There, he visited many famous sights in the company of the calligrapher-poet Xian Zhu and others, and wrote many poems.

    This poem was written right after he arrived in Baisha: or

    Leaf 6
    Gathering Lotus Flowers

    Fields of flowers and leaves fill
      Ditches full of water,
    A fragrant breeze lingers
      By a boat gathering
      lotus flowers;
    Phrases of a tune mixed
      with the sound of oars
      striking the water,
    Stir the white clouds,
      Setting bits of them afloat.

    This poem was also written while the painter was visiting the village of Baisha. The lotus flower was also thought to possess "gentlemanly" qualities because, in the words of Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073), "How spotlessly it arises from its slimy bed! How modestly it reposes on the surface of the clear pool!" While at Baisha, Shitao went boating with friends in waters full of lotus flowers. The painting supports the lyrical mood of the poem—the shapes of the lotus leaves and petals look like drifting skiffs and floating clouds, and the swaying reeds suggest the movement of "oars striking the water." A heady

    Leaf 7
    The Wilderness Hut

    A wilderness hut,
      lonely and desolate,
      On a wild mountainside,
    A flowerless old tree
      Leaning over
      the water's edge;
    After supper, I wander here
      Seeking quiet scenery,
    How sad the sunset feels,
      When I am so cold
      and bitter.

    This poem and painting give a picture of the hermit's hard and lonely existence, which Shitao knew well. In a poem dated 1674, Mei Qing described the life of Shitao and Hetao on Jingting mountain in Anhui Province: "The cold wind regularly blows through their thatch-covered walls; when the last scraps of vegetables are finished, they often go hungry." However, although Shitao often grieved and complained in his poems, he never despaired of life, since the hardships he suffered were more than compensated for by the beauty he saw in the world around him. Chan (Zen) Buddhism had taught him self-discipline, and he be

    Leaf 8

    Plum blossoms in October
      Sending forth a cold
    Are accompanied by
      the late-bloomer, the
    Since Heaven and Earth
      have no special favorites,
    Will the plum and
      the chrysanthemum
      blossom together
      again in the Spring?

    The chrysanthemum, the favorite flower of the best-known ancient recluse-poet Tao Qian, was the symbol of reclusion (in another Shitao album of this period, now in the Sackler Collection of the Princeton University Art Museum, Tao Qian smells a chrysanthemum). As Shitao prepared to retire, he thought of Tao Qian, just as countless retired poets and painters had before him, and as others would in the centuries to follow.

    Although this poem was written to commemorate an unusual event, the blossoming of plum trees in October, its real subject is the chrysanthemum, which as the perenn

    Leaf 9
    Late Spring on the Mountain

    New bamboo shoots grow taller
      than the eaves of the house,
    Deep in the morning mist,
      a mountain peak can be seen;
    May in the mountains feels
      like November,
    Leaning on a railing,
      I feel the cold dew
      on my coat and hat.

    This poem may have been written in the 1670s, when Shitao was living in the Anhui mountains. Although the painting does not illlustrate the poem, it does reflect the poet's feelings perfectly: the bare branches seem to be awakening, and the inkwash enveloping the lonely figure makes the damp and chilly mountain almost palpable. This is one of those quiet, almost desultory moments in which our senses are most alert and receptive to the atmosphere around us.

    The painting, which is built up with a series of single brushlines of increasing thickness and intensity, is a perfect illustration of what Shitao meant, in his tract on painting,

    Leaf 10
    Bamboo and Dry Branches

    In this picture I follow
      Li Cheng's style of branches
      with a new idea:
    I see a beautiful maiden,
      simple and elegant,
      with only a touch of cosmetics.
    As I try to capture
      her inimitable smile,
    I suddenly realize that I
      shall never entirely succeed.

    Dong Qichang (1555–1636), in formulating the Orthodox "Southern School" theory of painting, wrote: "Some say, 'One should establish one's own style.' But this cannot be. For example … when painting dry branches, one should follow Li Cheng. A thousand years cannot change this. Even if a painter should make his own modifications, he cannot depart from the source. How can anyone put aside the ancient methods and start out on his own?"

    In a colophon dated 1686, Shitao wrote: "In painting, there are the Southern and the Northern schools, and in calligraphy, the methods of the Two Wangs [

    Leaf 11
    Autumn Mountain

    The mountain colors are
      a hoary green, the trees
      are turning autumnal,
    A yellowish mist rises thinly
      against a rushing stream;
    In a traveler's lodge,
      Bitter Melon [Shitao] passes
      his time with a brush,
    His painting method ought
      to put old Guanxiu to

    Guanxiu (832–912) was a wandering poet-painter-priest of the war-filled Five Dynasties period. His life had been very much like Shitao's, and he once summed up his experiences in two lines:

    A single water bottle, accompanied by an alms bowl,
    together we grow older and older,
    A thousand mountains and ten thousand waters have
    gone past, again and again.

    This is the only landscape in the album to be fully colored in rust and green (the mountain color of the poem). Despite its small size, the scenery appears truly monumental. Brushstrokes&

    Leaf 12

    Oh narcissus and plum
      you are enjoyed together by
    In the wintry months, the two
      of you compete for glory;
    On a warm day
      by a bright window,
      I hold my brush,
    How my quiet thoughts wander
      —beyond the boundless

    The symbolism of the narcissus (shuixian, or "water goddess") entered Chinese thought relatively late and was not fully developed until the late Northern Song period. In the late thirteenth century, the Southern Song scholar-painter, and member of the Song imperial clan, Zhao Mengjian (1199–before 1267), popularized it in painting.

    The mood of this last poem is comfortably relaxed. Shitao was fifty-four years old when these album leaves were executed, and he could enjoy observing a narcissus plant in his study and letting his thoughts "wander—beyond the boundless shores