"Step forward, you will enter the imperial palace; retreat, you will see lakes and mountains". Chinese ancient literati were always caught in the dilemma of "being an official" or "live in solitude". After Song and Yuan dynasties, landscape painting gradually became a carrier for literati to express their wish for seclusion, and also became a pure land for literati and officials to escape from secular annoyance. This painting carried on this tradition, and the painter Wang Shimin, one of the “four talents” of orthodox school in early Qing Dynasty, was also a member of the civil service system. The main scene of this painting is layer upon layer of mountains, with flickering streams and waterfalls; in the lower part of the painting, lush trees cover a cottage and a man of letters sits inside in meditation. There is no path leading to the outside of mountains in the picture, showing that man of letters hopes that he is completely isolated and uninterrupted. The man in the painting can be understood as official Wang Shimin’s portrayal of his own wish to live in solitude. For scholar-officials and literati in Wang Shimin’s friend circle, they could understand Wang Shimin's message from this painting which also aroused their desire for seclusion, thus triggered an identity in literati circle.


  • Title: Cloudy Mountains
  • Creator: Wang Shimin
  • Date: 1661
  • Provenance: Shanghai Museum
  • Physical format: painting, 171.7h x 60.2w cm
  • Medium: colors on paper
  • Dynastic period: Ming Dynasty
  • Artist's birth and death date: 1592-1680

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