This landscape of swirling, fantastic mountains has puzzled scholars. The painting is signed “Li Zai of Putian,” a painter who lived during the fifteenth century, but its style clearly places it in the seventeenth century or later. Also, the artist’s inscription mentions the sixteenth-century collector Xiang Yuanbian, so it was obviously not intended to be a forgery of the fifteenth-century Li Zai, but the possibility of another painter by that name from the same hometown is unlikely. Whoever this Li Zai was, he was daring: as he states in the inscription, this painting is an attempt to combine the disparate styles of several old masters—Dong Yuan and Juran of the tenth century and Ma Yuan and Xia Gui of the thirteenth—and the results are fresh and unusual.
Signature: Artist's inscription in upper left corner of painting, in regular script: "In Xiang Yuanbian's collection I once saw Ma Yuan's painting 'Layered Peaks among Clouds'. Unfortunately, it was not protected from fire and is already destroyed. Today, in order to conjure up its idea, I have done this painting by blending the methods of the four masters Dong (Yuan), Ju (-ran), Ma (Yuan) and Xia (Gui). [Done in] a winter month of the year yiwei (probably 1655) to give my friend Qingxia Daoyu a laugh. Li Zai of Putian"
[Qingxia Daoyu may be the mid-17th century Souzhou painter, Gu Ningyuan].
Seals: 1. Li Zai (square, intaglio) 2. Yizheng (square, relief)
(Neither appears in Wang & Contag or in the Palace Museum series Seals and Signatures).
Inscription: Colophons on separate sheet of paper: 1. Zai Lin of Zhejiang, Xiaoshan: 8 lines of xingshu (dated 1711); followed by one seal: Zipei (square, relief) 2. Chen Shen of Jiangsi, Taixian: 8 lines of xingshu (undated); followed by one seal: Guangfu (square, relief) 3. Huang Zimin of Anhwei, Dangtu: 4 lines of regular script (undated); followed by one seal: (?)-xing zhuili bantianxia (square, intaglio) 4. Zeng Ao of Jiangsi, Nancheng, Jinshi 1781: 4 lines of xingshu, on separate piece of paper from first three (dated 1794); followed by one seal: Bingu (tall, rectangle, relief)
Title frontsipiece mounted before painting: Huang Yue (1750–1841). a painter and seal-carver from Anhwei, Dangtuxian; four large characters in semicursive script: "Bijing moshen [Excellent brushwork and wonderful ink]". Followed by two seals: 1. Huang shi Zuotian Yizhai yin (tall, rectangle, intaglio); 2. Hanlin Xueshi (square, relief). Niether seal in Wang & Contag or Palace Museum Seals and Signatures.
Label written on outer cover by unidentified collector (probably 20th c.): "Ming Li Yizheng's handscroll painting after Ma Yuan's 'Layered Peaks and Mountains'".
Marking: Collectors' seals on painting: 1. Wu Rongguang (1773–1843) Guangdun, Nanhaixian painter, calligrapher and collector: Wu Borong shi Biji zhiyin (tall, rectangular, relief). 2. Unidentified (may be Yuan Mei (1716–1797): Jianzhai (square, intaglio)
[ David Newman , London, until 1977; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Traditions of China," August 26, 2017–January 6, 2019.