Wen Zhengming, Wintry Trees, a hanging scroll painting

Ming dynasty, dated the 21st day of the last month in the renyin year of the Jiajing emperor (AD 1543)

Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) was the leading scholar-amateur painter from Suzhou. Together with his teacher, Shen Zhou (1427-1509), he is considered a founder of the Wu school of literati painting (wenren hua). As the epitome of the Confucian scholar, he excelled at the 'Three Perfections' (sanjue) demanded of a literati: poetry, calligraphy (the art of writing with a brush) and painting.

The painting depicts a forest in winter. The desolation of winter is expressed through the absence of colour and the use of a variety of dry, textured strokes. A single tall pine rises from the centre and dominates the painting.

However, as an example of a literati painting, this work goes beyond the simple representation of the subject matter. It is also an articulation of the ideas and the emotions of the artist. The inscription at the top left-hand corner explains that this landscape is related to the loss of Wen's wife and the subsequent visit of condolence by his friend, Li Zicheng. During the visit, the friends had discussed the work of Li Cheng, a tenth-century painter who excelled in the painting of woods in winter. The wintry trees of this painting were a reminder of that conversation, and an allusion to old age and mortality. When Wen made this painting he was already seventy-three years of age. It took ten hours to complete.

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Wen Zhengming, Wintry Trees, a hanging scroll painting

Wintry Trees


More information


A. Farrer, The brush dances and the ink s (Hayward Gallery, London, 1990)

J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

K. Suzuki (ed.), Comprehensive illustrated cata (University of Tokyo Press, 1982)

R. Edwards, The art of Wen Cheng-ming (147 (Ann Arbor, 1976)


Height: 900.000 mm
Width: 310.000 mm

Museum number

Asia OA 1965.10-11.01 (Chinese Painting Add. 351)


Brooke Sewell Fund


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