Yuan Landscape Painting

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During the Yuan period, after the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty, many of the leading landscape painters were literati who did not serve in office, either because offices were not as widely available as they had been under the Song, or because they did not want to serve the conquerors.  


Scholars' landscapes, like the paintings they did of other subjects, were designed for a restricted audience of like-minded individuals.  It was not uncommon for scholars to use the allusive side of paintings to make political statements, especially statements of political protest.



What would be the political appeal of depictions of scholars in caves?


For the full handscroll, click here


Wang Meng (ca. 1308-1385), The Orchid Chamber, detail       source


It became quite common among literati artists of the Yuan to allude to earlier painting styles in their paintings.  They were creating, in a sense, art historical art, as their paintings did not refer only to landscapes, but also to the large body of earlier paintings that their contemporaries collected and critiqued.  


Another trait of Yuan literati landscapists is that they did not hide the process of their painting, but rather allowed the traces of their brushes to be visible, going considerably further in this direction than painters of the Song.


In Ming times, the three painters illustrated below, Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, and Wang Meng  were designated the Four Masters of the Yuan period (along with Wu Zhen, whose paintings of bamboo appear in a later section).  


From the three paintings illustrated below, do these painters share much?  Do they have similar goals, of employ similar methods?  Or are you struck more by the differences among them?



This artist, Ni Zan, stripped down his technique to all but the most essential brushstrokes.   His inscription of a poem, by contrast, is rather lengthy.  In it he states that he did the painting as a present for a friend leaving to take up an official post, to remind him of the joys of peaceful retirement.  


What would the inscription have added for viewers other than the recipient?


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Ni Zan (1301-1374), Still Streams and Winter Pines                                                 source






Done in 1366, just two years before the fall of the Yuan dynasty, this painting represents the villa of a relative of the painter, Wang Meng (ca. 1309-1385).  






To see a larger view of this dense painting, and to compare it to the Guo Xi viewed earlier, click here.





Wang Meng (ca. 1309-1385), Secluded Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains source

Huang Gongwang (1269-1354), Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, detail                              source


To see an overview of the entire scroll, click here.


To see some more details, click here



Move on to Court Painting