Joys of the Fisherman

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Joys of the Fisherman (江山漁樂圖)

Wang Fu (王紱, 1362-1416), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Handscroll, ink on paper, 27 x 688.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

       A twelfth-century couplet inscribed on the wall of a tavern characterized the lives of the fisherman and the scholar-official:

       Right and wrong reach not where men fish; Glory and disgrace dog the official riding his horse.

       To painters living in the tumultuous days of the late Yuan and early Ming dynasties, the theme of the fisherman symbolized a perfect escape from their strife-torn world. Wang Fu, a fellow townsman of Ni Zan (1306–1374), returned to Wuxi in 1401, after twenty years of exile at the desolate northern outpost of Datong, Shanxi Province; like Ni Zan, he had been a wanderer in his native land. In this long scroll Wang echoes Wu Zhen's (1280–1354) treatment of the fisherman theme. Poised between descriptive realism and calligraphic abstraction, Wang's painting exemplifies how Ming- and Qing-dynasty scholar-artists expressed themselves through the brush idioms of the Song and Yuan masters.