Misty Bamboo on a Distant Mountain (遠山煙竹)
Zheng Xie (鄭燮, 1693-1765), Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Set of four hanging scroll, ink on paper, 179.1 x 68.3 cm each, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Zheng Xie passed the civil-service examination in 1736 and was appointed as magistrate in north China. Sympathetic with the plight of the people then in the throes of starvation, Zheng enforced extreme measures to improve their situation that met with resistance from the wealthier citizens in the area. His disillusionment with bureaucratic ethics, his disintegrating health, and his reputation tainted by scandal forced Zheng into early retirement. He settled in Yangzhou, then a prosperous community supportive of artists, where he became known as one of the Eight Eccentrics.
This monumental four-panel painting depicts a grove of bamboo growing on a mountainside. The shallow pictorial space is defined by the placement of the stalks, which jut into view from the bottom of the composition, climb up the paper as if ascending a slope, and extend well beyond the top of the picture. It is further defined by the dramatic use of graded ink washes-from jet black to pale gray-that suggest the veiling effects of a dense mist. The artist inscribed the painting twice: in the upper right, with a title and date, and at the lower left, with his signature and seals.