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WEN ZHENGMING (1470-1559)

Double Cypress

Handscroll, ink on paper, 10¼ x 74¾in. (26 x 190cm.)

Inscribed with a poem

Signed: "Wen Zhengming of Changzhou painted and inscribed"

Dated mengxia yue (fourth month) of yiwei year of the Jiajing era (1535)

Two seals of the artist: Zheng, Ming

Eight collectors' seals: including one of Zhu Zhichi (17th century), one of Qi Zhiliu (19th century), one of Ting Yong (d. 1900), one of Shao Songnian (1848-1923) and two of Jean-Pierre Dubosc (20th century)
Two colophons by Shao Songnian

Label by Xu Zhonghao (1880-1957)
Jean-Pierre Dubosc, Lugano
Shao Songnian, Guyuan Cuilu ("The Assembly of Ancient Relationships"), (preface dated 1904), vol. 3, p. 24

Osvald Siren, Chinese Painting, (London: Lund, Humphries & Co., Ltd., 1956-1958), vol. VII, p. 259

Zhou Daozhen, Wen Zhengming Shuhua Jianbiao ("Selected List of Calligraphy and Paintings by Wen Zhengming"), (Beijing: Beijing People's Fine Art Publishing Co., 1985), p. 69

Lot Essay

Wen Zhengming, a native of Suzhou, spent the first half of his life studying history, calligraphy and literature and then repeatedly attempting and failing the civil service examinations. Although he did not begin his painting career until he was already in his sixties, he came to be known as one of the Four Masters of the Ming.

This painting closely resembles the composition and style of two other works by Wen Zhengming: "Old Pine Tree", an undated handscroll also formerly in the J.P. Dubosc collection and now in the Cleveland Museum, and "Seven Junipers of Changshu", a handscroll dated 1532 in the Honolulu Academy of Arts (illustrated in Richard Edwards, The Art of Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), cat. no. XVII and XXX, respectively). These paintings of sharply cropped depictions of old trees are part of a genre associated with the Song dynasty painters, Li Cheng (919-967) and Guo Xi (ca. 1020-1075). The earliest extant representation of the style is Wang Tingyun's (1151-1202) "Old Tree and Bamboo" in Kyoto's Fujii Yurinkan. The Cleveland handscroll includes a colophon by Wen Zhengming stating that he copied the Yuan master Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) when making the painting. Wen Zhengming's teacher, Shen Zhou (1427-1509) also created a version in 1484 with his handscroll in the Nanjing Museum, "The Three Junipers." Wen's three paintings share the contorted branches, the juxtaposition of varied light and dark texture strokes, the lack of deep space, as well as the truncated abbreviated depicitions of the trees. However, Wen's paintings are denser, including more trees filled with numerous interlocking branches, which snake back and forth, the boundaries of the paper interrupt the trees and branches more abruptly so that their beginnings and ends cannot be easily discerned, making the whole more abstract. These innovations are even more boldly rendered in this painting; numerous branches weave back and forth, into and out of the picture space and the dark rock forms a dramatic backdrop for the two pale tree trunks.

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