Whiling Away the Summer

Artist: Wu Li (Chinese, 1632–1718)

Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)

Date: dated 1679

Culture: China

Medium: Handscroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image: 14 5/16 x 105 3/4 in. (36.4 x 268.6 cm)
Overall with mounting: 14 11/16 x 393 1/16 in. (37.3 x 998.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Purchase, Douglas Dillon Gift, 1977

Accession Number: 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 (1269–1354), 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.