Wu Li, one of the six great Orthodox School masters of the early Qing, began his study of ancient paintings with an album owned by the venerable Orthodox painter Wang Shimin (1592–1680). The album, entitled Within Small See Large (Xiaozhong xianda), contained reduced copies of Song and Yuan masterpieces owned by Wang.
In Travelers among Streams and Mountains, probably made in the 1670s, Wu Li carefully copies the album leaf that preserves a composition by the late Yuan master Wang Meng (ca. 1308–1385). Wu’s interpretation gives the work new life, however, through the vigor and spontaneity of his execution. Responding and adjusting to each newly realized brushstroke in a constant interaction between brush, ink, paper, and the observed form, Wu Li’s brushwork and composition grow with the “momentum” and “force” (shi) of the artist’s performance.
In addition to superb brushwork, Wu Li demonstrates a genius for using ink; using different shades of gray, he creates in his landscape the luminous atmospheric quality that is one of his hallmarks.
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (2 columns in semi-cursive script):
吳歷 漁山 延陵
Gai Qi 改琦 (1774–1829) 臣琦私印 改囗
Gai Kui 改簣 (active early 19th c.) 改簣 臣囗囗囗
Yan Shengbo 燕笙波 （19th c.） 燕笙波印
Ma Jizuo 馬積祚 （1902–?） 馬積祚印
Wang Zuxi 王祖錫 （1858–1908） 惕安祕玩
Wang Boyuan 王伯元 （1893–1977） 伯元藏定
[ David L. Elliott , West Palm Beach, FL, 1981; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30, 1998–January 3, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Artist as Collector: Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the C.C.Wang Family Collection," September 2, 1999–January 9, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "When the Manchus Ruled China: Painting under the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)," February 2, 2002–August 18, 2002.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Douglas Dillon Legacy: Chinese Painting for the Metropolitan Museum," March 12, 2004–August 8, 2004.
Washington, DC. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. "Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries," June 23, 2007–September 16, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Traditions of China," August 26, 2017–January 6, 2019.