Kuncan exemplifies the educated artists who lived through the fall of the Chinese-ruled Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and into the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The Manchu conquest was a devastating event, yet outright protest was impossible. Becoming a recluse at a Buddhist monastery was one way of escaping the turmoil; indirect protest could be registered through the choice of a painting style and in the wording of inscriptions. This was the route chosen by Kuncan, who was eventually appointed abbot of a monastery near Nanjing.

Kuncan's dry, rough style is personal, and it reflects something of his state of mind. In the painting's long inscription, he openly expresses his emotions:

I grew weary of the city and retired to the riverside. Early in the morning, after bathing, I came to the famous Xiang River [in Hunan province] and sang sad songs to the cloudy mountaintops. This is the place where the Duke of Fan used to visit and hold gatherings. As I watched the dusty world, my mind reverted to a state of dejection and to the desolation of an unkempt garden. I became entangled in melancholy. When the immortal Wang Zijin attained the Way [of the Dao], he disappeared in scrolls of clouds. Phoenixes sang over the Yellow and Ren rivers, and cranes nested and stayed for an entire year. A cool wind rises, falters, and dies. The water in the creek is limpid. The swirling river then invades the creek's boundaries. I forget my own existence to follow Ji and Yuan. They lived with ink slabs as neighbors and cared only for literary gems. The starving kite can only wail, but what is the use of just lamenting? Even if Heaven had kept secret the works of Zhong and Wang, the bones and flesh of their beings would have remained the same. When the heart is free from all impurities, genius is always clearly manifested.

Made the first day of the eighth month of xinchou [1661] while sitting in the Daxie Studio. Tianran, the Crippled Daoist of Stone Valley, Shixi Candaoren [one of the artist's many artistic names].


  • Title: The river bend
  • Creator: Kuncan (Chinese, 1612-1673) (Artist)
  • Date Created: 1661
  • Physical Dimensions: H. 39 1/2 in x W. 47 1/4 in, H. 100.3 cm x W. 120 cm (image); H. 93 7/8 in x W. 50 in, H. 238.4 cm x W. 127 cm (overall)
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Medium: Ink on paper
  • Credit Line: Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D53

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