The Simple Retreat

Artist: Wang Meng (Chinese, ca. 1308–1385)

Period: Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Date: ca. 1370

Culture: China

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 53 3/4 x 17 5/8 in. (136.5 x 44.8 cm)
Overall with mounting: 101 1/4 x 24 3/4 in. (257.2 x 62.9 cm)
Overall with knobs: 101 1/4 x 28 11/16 in. (257.2 x 72.9 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Gift of Oscar L. Tang Family, 2012

Accession Number: 2012.526.2


Wang Meng depicted scholars in their retreats, creating imaginary portraits that capture not the physical likeness of a person or place but rather an interior world of shared associations and ideals. He presented the master of Simple Retreat as a gentleman recluse. Seated at the front gate of a rustic hermitage, he is shown holding a magic fungus, as a servant and two deer approach from the woods. In the courtyard, another servant offers a sprig of herbs to a crane. The auspicious Daoist imagery of fungus, crane, and deer as well as the archaic simplicity of the figures and dwelling evokes a dreamlike vision of paradise.

In creating this visionary world, Wang transformed the monumental landscape imagery of the tenth-century master Dong Yuan. Rocks and trees, animated with fluttering texture strokes, dots, color washes, and daubs of bright mineral pigment, pulse with a calligraphic energy barely contained within the traditional landscape structure. Encircled by this energized mountainscape, the retreat becomes a reservoir of calm at the vortex of a world whose dynamic configurations embody nature's creative potential but may also suggest the ever-shifting terrain of political power.