Bada Shanren derived his early fame for his enigmatic mocking birds and painted landscapes late in life. This is one of a set of four landscapes, dated c. 1694, which evokes the styles of the four great masters of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). They are Huang Gongwang (1269–1354), Ni Zan (1301–1374), Wu Zhen (1280–1354), and Wang Meng (c. 1309–1385).
Bada’s creative approach to the styles of the Yuan masters was largely inspired by the artist Dong Qichang’s theory and style of painting. Dong formulated the `orthodox’ lineage of scholar-amateur painting, tracing its origin to the Tang dynasty (618–907) poet-painter Wang Wei (699–759). Dong also advocated and conducted a creative approach to painting within tradition by transforming the styles of the ancients into an individual style of one’s own. Like the Yuan masters, Bada painted his inner landscapes in the expressive xieyi (writing ideas or conceptions) manner and showed his mastery of calligraphy through the eloquent ease of his brush.
By transforming the styles and underlying principles in the paintings of the four great masters, whom Dong included in his orthodox lineage, Bada has achieved an individual style of expression that reflects its artistic lineage, which is the scholar-amateur tradition of painting. The landscapes are secluded and solitary; man is absent. Bada has used the images of nature to express his inner vision and the brushwork of calligraphy to ‘write’ landscapes of the mind. These compelling landscapes are like distinct personalities, moods or musical movements. Reading the scrolls from right to left, the landscape quartet rises from a quiet calm to a controlled tempest. Bada’s four landscapes are compelling images of the mind.
Text by Dr Mae Anna Pang © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia