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Twin Pines

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Yuan dynasty


Wu Chen (1280-1354), Yüan Dynasty (1279-1368)
Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 180 x 111.4 cm 
Wu Chen (style name Chung-kui and sobriquet Mei-hua tao-jen), a native of Chia-hsing in Chekiang province, was gifted at poetry and prose. He also excelled at painting landscapes and bamboo in monochrome ink as well as cursive script calligraphy. Along with Huang Kung-wang, Ni Tsan, and Wang Meng, he is ranked as one of the Four Great Masters of the Yüan.

In his early years, Wu Chen often copied the landscapes of famous masters of the Northern Sung (960-1126). After the age of 49, his style gradually matured. According to the artist's inscription, this painting is dated to 1328, making it the earliest surviving dated work by Wu Chen. It also indicates that it was done for the Taoist master Lei So-tsun.

Although the title indicates that these are pines, the needles here are those of cypress trees. The knotty trees preserve the style of the Li Ch'eng and Kuo Hsi manner. The trunks rise vertically, and at the top branch out and intertwine. The bark is done with hemp-fiber strokes in light ink, while the hills and rocks are formed with layers of texture strokes and washes that soften to indistinct outlines similar to the Tung Yüan and Chü-jan style. Many round stones also in the Tung-Chü manner appear at the edge of the water. These elegant touches not only define the water's edge at the shore, but also round off the mountaintops. The two cypresses in the foreground dominate the painting, but beyond them, a sense of space is suggested by the stream as it winds into the distance. The repetitive brushwork and layers of ink give the scroll a simple and peaceful harmony.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum