Wen Jia, a recognized poet, critic, and connoisseur of painting, was the second son of Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), one of the literati artists of the Wu school in Suzhou during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Meticulous brushwork, cool coloring, and a conservative temperament characterize his paintings.
This scroll is one of Wen Jia’s largest extant paintings and depicts a tall, narrow landscape crowded with wooded mountains, winding paths, torrents, and leafy trees executed in ink and pale colors. It illustrates the interest of Wu school artists in the work of earlier masters: Wen Jia’s inscription states that the composition was inspired by a specific painting by the tenth-century master Dong Yuan. The bold, rocky mass that curves up the center of the painting is reminiscent of the mountain masses that dominate the center of many Northern Song (960–1127) landscapes. The use of dots for foliage, and of long hemp-fiber strokes to give texture to the rocks, recalls the technique of the founder of the Wu school, Shen Zhou (1427–1509), who in turn followed Northern Song conventions. On the other hand, the spatial ambiguity in this painting—horizons that do not match and disjointed land masses that have no organic relationship—is a feature exploited by a later Ming master, Dong Qichang (1555–1636).