Hanging scroll: ink and colors on silk
h 30 -1/2 x w 16 inches
Original name Pi and tzu was Cheng-ming
Later adopted Cheng-ming and took the tzu Cheng-chung and the hao Heng-shan chü-shih
Wen Cheng-ming was from a wealthy Suchou family and thus had ample access to an education and literary texts; as such he should
have followed a career in civil service. However, he failed in many attempts to pass the second level of examinations and
eventually was given an appointment instead. He did not last long in government service and eventually retired from public
His failure in government is in stark contrast to his success as a painter. He studied painting with the great early Ming
master Shen Chou (1427-1509) and followed the Yüan masters, particularly in landscape painting, but also in bamboo and paintings
of old trees. His use of pale cool and warm colors, an attenuated landscape format, and the complexity of positive and negative
shapes are hallmarks of his work. He shaped the Wu school into a virtual dynasty with his son, nephew, and students leading
generations of artists with his example. He was much admired during his lifetime and enjoyed the patronage of Wang Shih-chen
and his brother Wang Shih-mou, government officials who were noted collectors and connoisseurs.
"The inscription is published in Wen Cheng-ming's literary works, but for some reason the painting was not accepted by everybody.
It doesn't look like what you think of when you think of Wen Cheng-ming. When it came up at auction during the seminar I had
slides of it and we worked through it trying to see whether it was or it wasn't [Wen Cheng-ming]. By that time, we had come
to some criteria for recognizing the hand of Wen Cheng-ming: how he puts a painting together, the different motifs, apart
from the style he was working in. [We found] the paintings looked superficially different, but fundamentally, structurally
the same. We came to the conclusion that it was indeed a real Wen Cheng-ming, and I proceeded to buy it after the auction
was over. It was an example in which we were able to get the painting because of making a decision in the seminar. I'm not
saying I wouldn't have bought it otherwise, but I felt a lot better about it."