Old Trees by a Cold Waterfall (古木寒泉)
Wen Zhengming (文徵明, 1470-1559), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 194.1 x 59.3 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
Wen Zhengming, a native of Suzhou, was gifted in the scholarly arts of poetry, prose, calligraphy and painting. A student of Shen Zhou (沈周, 1427-1509), he excelled at both painting and calligraphy, becoming one of the Four Great Masters of the Ming. Living to an old age and venerated by many, his influence was widespread. Many family members and students followed in his style, solidifying the formation of the Wu School of painting.
The trunk of an ancient cypress tree twists and turns at the bottom of this painting as two pines shoot straight up from behind and dominate the foreground. A stone cliff serves as a backdrop that fills the background, dense and formidable. It seems as if there is no space to spare in this composition. From some place far above the water is a cascade that unifies the center of this work.
This was painted in the winter of 1549 at the lofty age of 79. Like the force and grandeur of the landscape he has rendered here, the use of brush is also powerful and full of spirit (this being despite his age). This work ranks as one of Wen Zhengming's greatest surviving masterpieces.