Art Through Time: A Global View
Writing Art: Bamboo in the Wind
Bamboo has been an important and meaningful subject for painting during many periods in Chinese history.
In addition to its status, along with plum blossoms, orchids, and chrysanthemums, as one of the so-called “Four Gentlemen” representing the four seasons, bamboo’s ability to bend without breaking made it a symbol of strength, courage, and integrity from very early on. Traditionally, it was held that the ability to represent the plant effectively was a marker of extraordinary skill and artistic sophistication.
Although he was not a prominent figure in his lifetime, Wu Zhen is now known as one of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty; he is especially renowned for his bamboo ink paintings. In this work, a scroll over eight feet in length, Wu Zhen creates a complex relationship between text and image. The rich variety of brushwork used to create the bamboo leaves is calligraphic. The straight columns of text serve as a counterpoint to the graceful arc of the bamboo stalk, curved by the wind as described in the title. The result is a composition that is both expressive and affecting.
The writing on Bamboo in the Wind not only describes the image, but also situates it in a specific cultural and artistic context. It was common for the textual elements of Yuan scrolls to mention artistic precedents admired by the artist. Here, Wu Zhen identifies eleventh-century artist Su Shi, a celebrated painter of bamboo, as his influence.
“Bamboo in the Wind, F1953.85.” In Collections. Freer and Sackler Galleries Web site. http://www.asia.si.edu/collections.
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