Wu Li (Chinese, 16321718)
Handscroll; ink on paper; 14 5/16 x 106 5/16 in. (36.4 x 270 cm)
Inscribed by the artist
Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family
Purchase, Douglas Dillon Gift, 1977 (1977.81)
In his inscription, Wu Li records that he painted this handscroll one clear morning after a rainfall, sitting alone in his studio thinking of an absent friend. There is a dreamlike quality about the painting: birds, trees, bamboo, mist, and even rocks dance joyously around the hermit-scholar, who sits quietly reading in his idyllic domain. Although he was an ardent admirer of Huang Gongwang (12691354), Wu transformed the Yuan painter's "hemp-fiber" texture strokes into a distinctly personal style: cool pale ink textures in intricate contrasting patterns, silhouetted and suspended in space, have been applied with both an athlete's vigor and a poet's gentle cadence. In 1681, two years after he painted this work, Wu Li was baptized as a Christian, a most uncommon thing to do for a man of his background. Ordained in Macao as a priest in 1688, he was sent in 1689 to do missionary work in Shanghai, where he died in 1718.
The opening section of the scroll sets a mood with an expansive vista across rice paddies, moisture-laden trees, and clearing mist after rain.