Water Village (水村圖)
Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫, 1254-1322), Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)
Handscroll, ink on paper, 24.9 x 120.5 cm, The Palace Museum, Beijing
This outwardly unassuming work defines a new direction in scholarly painting by establishing the equivalence of painting and calligraphy. Ostensibly depicting the hermitage of a friend, the handscroll presents an idealized image of a scholarly retreat in a new painterly language that constitutes a seamless synthesis of earlier styles.
Relying on more recent paintings to give substance to early pictorial and literary archetypes of scholarly residences, Zhao radically reduced his stylistic sources to a simple set of brush conventions. Just as in calligraphy, where characters are composed of a few basic brushstroke types, painting could now function like handwriting as an expression of the artist's personality. Zhao's painting also established a new aesthetic ideal for later scholar-artists, that of "restrained understatement" (pingdan, 平淡).