Drenched in Moonlight

Tong Yu Chinese

Not on view

Since the Song poet Lin Bu (967–1028) first celebrated the blossoming plums of his native Hangzhou (in Zhejiang province), plums have been a special subject for artists from that region. Tong Yu, from nearby Shaoxing, followed the local tradition established by his townsman Wang Mian (1287–1359).

The thrusting limbs of a blossoming plum energize this composition. Typically, neither tree trunk nor ground plane is depicted; instead the artist focuses on the dynamic counterpoint of two sturdy branches that curve in opposite directions. The moon and the flowers stand out in uninked plain paper, left in reserve against the lightly tinted night sky.

Tong Yu was also an accomplished calligrapher. His inscription on this painting, which combines clerical and cursive scripts—his two specialties—plays on the aesthetic of juxtaposing contrasting script types:

Drenched in Moonlight
The ocean of clouds disperses; after the snowfall it begins
to clear.
The myriad valleys, in silent chill, remain frozen and muted.
Only the plum trees in the moonlight on Mount Gu [in
West Lake, Hangzhou]
Branch out at will, unconcerned with the passage of time.

(trans. by Shi-yee Liu)

Drenched in Moonlight, Tong Yu (Chinese, 1721–1782), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

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