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April 25, 2010

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Song master blended poetry with painting

IT is widely considered that in Chinese painting, a combination of both calligraphy and inspiring poems accounts for a masterpiece.

Among all Chinese artworks, Song Dynasty (960-1279) paintings are the rarest.

The painting "Misty River and Piling Peaks" by Song master Wang Shen is such a masterpiece, making it one of the highlights of the Shanghai Museum's collection.

Wang has sketched piles of majestic peaks rising out of a misty and broad river. The water is not as recognizable as the mountains, thus forming a strong contrast.

At the foot of the mountains he has scattered clumps of lush trees.

Wang has vividly drawn gullies by manipulating the grades of color. Looking at the gullies, you can almost hear the tinkling of running water.

The distant mountains are also in lighter colors, giving the image more perspective. Some parts of the mountains can hardly be seen, as if hidden in the mist.

Famous literati Su Shi composed a poem to compliment the painting and wrote it on the back with his smooth calligraphy.

Wang also wrote a poem which he added to Su's and his calligraphy is in the same smooth style.

Wang is a legendary painter. Born as a highly gifted child, he was a diligent student and developed into a versatile literati. With a prominent family background and exceptional talent, he married the emperor's sister.

He made close friends with other literatis and they often had get-togethers, writing sentimental poems and appreciating the artistic works of the host.

Though immersing himself in art, Wang inevitably got involved in political conflicts. The ups-and-downs of political life gave him no pleasure in later life and in his final years he became solely devoted to the arts before dying a lonely man.

Though his life ended sadly, his mountains-and-waters painting integrating poetry and calligraphy holds a significant position in the lexicon of China's art history and has influenced subsequent generations of painters.


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