Wang Hsi-chih (ca. 303-361), Chin Dynasty (265-420)
Album leaf, ink on paper, 23 x 14.8 cm
Wang Hsi-chih, style name I-sao, was a native of Lin-i in Lang-ya (Shantung province) and a member of the nobility. At the end of the Western Chin (265-316), he accompanied his father in moving south. During his career, he held various official positions. In 351, he was appointed as General of the Right Army and Administrator of Kuei-chi. Sometime between 355 and 356, he chose to resign from all positions and joined other figures of renown on scenic excursions. Wang Hsi-chih was versed in poetry, music, and calligraphy. In the latter, he studied the works of all the masters past and present, frequently changing his models and expanding his repertoire in the process. He was especially gifted in the study of script forms. He took different brush styles, such as Ch'in dynasty (221-206 BC) seal script and Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) clerical script, and fused them into standard, running, and cursive scripts to create ideal calligraphy forms. Therefore, later generations in the T'ang dynasty (618-907) praised him as "taking the best of all styles and compiling them into one to become the master of all time." For this reason, he became known as the "Sage Calligrapher".
In this short letter written in running script, Wang Hsi-chih sends greetings to a friend after a snowfall. The Ming dynasty connoisseur Chan Ching-feng (1520-1602) pointed out that the round, forceful, elegant nature of the brushwork here has a leisurely spirit that influenced the running script of Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322), an influential calligrapher of the Yüan dynasty. Much of the brushwork appears round and blunt, the dots and hooked strokes not revealing the tip of the brush. The characters are even and balanced, revealing a straightforward elegance and introverted harmony. The Ch'ien-lung Emperor (reigned 1736-1795) in the Ch'ing dynasty especially prized this work, praising it as "The one and only; a masterpiece for all time." In 1747, he had it and "Mid-Autumn" by Wang Hsi-chih's son (Wang Hsien-Chin) and "Po-yüan" by Wang Hsün mounted together to form what he called "The Three Treasures" and housed in a special building--"The Three Treasures Hall".This work is nowadays generally considered to be an excellent copy made in the T'ang dynasty.
Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum