Shady Trees in a Summer Landscape

Tags: Ming dynasty | National Palace Museum | painting


Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (1555-1636), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 321.9 x 102.3 cm 
Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (style name Hsüan-tsai and sobriquet Ssu-pai) was a native of Hua-t'ing, near Shanghai. A civil service degree candidate of 1588, he ultimately became President of the Board of Rites. However, Tung is far more famous as one of the most influential artist-connoisseurs of the late Ming. He was so famous as a connoisseur that any painting authenticated by him increased in value dramatically. In calligraphy, he excelled at graceful semi-cursive script. Since he was an art collector, he studied directly from the ancients and eventually created a grand synthesis of styles. As a landscape painter, however, he tended towards the styles of Tung Yüan and Chü-jan, two 10th-century painters who specialized in painting the soft rolling landscapes of the south. In general, Tung's landscapes are marked by the subtle elegance found in scholar art. His mature yet breezy form of brushwork is built up yet also retains a light and airy feeling. In creating compositions, he followed the idea in calligraphy of an overriding "force" that permeates the work. He was also the leading art theorist of his day, developing the notion that Chinese painting could be divided into two approaches--the "northern" one of gradually painting with fine lines and colors as well as a "southern" one of working more quickly with calligraphic strokes. This theory came to dominate Chinese art history for more than 300 years.

According to the inscription by Tung at the top of this work, it is an imitation done from memory of a Tung Yüan painting that he had seen and also combined with the style of Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354). This, however, is no strict copy. The unmistakable syncretic style of Tung is evident in everything from the winding force of the composition down to the built-up brushwork. The strokes, derived from Tung's calligraphic style, emphasizes the movement of the brush as well as variety in the ink tones to create layers of form and change in the painting. The work, especially when viewed from a distance, reveals the characteristic contrast of light (paper) and dark (ink) that seems to give the landscape an almost three-dimensional quality within the Chinese art tradition of juxtaposing solid and void.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum