The Red Cliff

Tags: Chin Dynasty | National Palace Museum | painting


Wu Yüan-chih (fl. 1190-1195), Chin Dynasty (1115-1234)
Handscroll, ink on paper, 50.8 x 136.4 cm 
The painting itself here is unsigned, but the artist is Wu Yüan-chih (style name Shan-fu), a famous scholar under Emperor Chang-tsung who excelled at landscape painting.

This work illustrates the immortal "Ode to the Red Cliff" by Su Shih (1037-1101), which was written in 1082. Based on this text, the artist here has represented Su Shih wearing a gauze cap along with two passengers and an oarsman on a boat. The artist has captured the majesty of the scenery, revealing the swirling waters and the towering Red Cliff described in Su's ode. Pine branches bend, emphasizing the wind as indicated in the ode by a "light breeze." The whorls in the water suggest the "sound of river flow." The rocks are done in axe-cut type texture strokes, suggesting the angularity and sharpness of the terrain. Likewise, the vertical strokes of the cliff are decisive and have clarity to them. The figures in the boat are exceptionally small, appearing as if dots compared to the grandeur of the landscape. Combined with the textures of the rocks and swirls of the water, the painting also presents a rhythmic interpretation of the forces of nature.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum