Whiling Away the Summer

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Whiling Away the Summer (墨井草堂消夏圖)

Wu Li (吳歷, 1632-1718), Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Handscroll, ink on paper, 36.4 x 268.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

       In his inscription, Wu Li records that he painted this handscroll one clear morning after a rainfall, sitting alone in his studio thinking of an absent friend. There is a dreamlike quality about the painting: birds, trees, bamboo, mist, and even rocks dance joyously around the hermit-scholar, who sits quietly reading in his idyllic domain. Although he was an ardent admirer of Huang Gongwang (1269–1354), Wu transformed the Yuan painter's "hemp-fiber" texture strokes into a distinctly personal style: cool pale ink textures in intricate contrasting patterns, silhouetted and suspended in space, have been applied with both an athlete's vigor and a poet's gentle cadence.

       In 1681, two years after he painted this work, Wu Li was baptized as a Christian, a most uncommon thing to do for a man of his background. Ordained in Macao as a priest in 1688, he was sent in 1689 to do missionary work in Shanghai, where he died in 1718.