An Introduction to Landscapes of Northern Song
In this painting, Fan Kuan skillfully arranges the three levels of scenery (foreground, middleground, background) into a centralized and monumental landscape. The foreground consists of large rocky outcroppings in the lower center, the middle ground reveals a line of donkeys, and in the distance stands a towering mountain.
The central mountain dominates the whole painting.
A cascade as slender as silk falls from the heights above, the sounds of the stream ringing in the valley. The slight changes of ink here seem to hint at the cliff face that cannot be easily identified in the dark.
Heavy, trembling contours depict the rigid surface of the mountain. “Rain-dot strokes that fall like thick rain describe the steepness and solidness of the mountain.
By the cluster of rocks in the right foreground is a path on which a mule train makes its way. To the right of the mule train, among the leaves, is the signature of Fan Kuan.
Trees with twisted branches and protruding nodules grow on the tough rock, portrayed in powerful strokes that seem to etch out the image.
From the viewpoint of the regional style, scholars consider this painting as an ideal representative of northern landscape painting in China. Others, from its format of arrangement, believe this masterpiece embodies a shift in the compositional viewpoint that took place in Chinese painting at the time. In other words, the layered "high distance" composition derived from the Tang dynasty has been developed into a perfected realm, making this piece a representative of the "monumental landscape" painting of the Northern Song. From a more philosophical viewpoint of the "Tao" (Way), scholars also believe that this work expresses the ideal of a harmonious relationship between humans and nature.
The composition combines the techniques of tall, deep, and flat distances, making this an ideal landscape for walking, viewing, living, and traveling in the imagination.
Guo Xi entitled this work "Early Spring" and
signed it "Painted by Guo Xi in the Renzi year
With “cloud-head” texture strokes for the mountain forms and “crab-claw” strokes for the trees, the landscape seems to almost pulsate and flow.
Lofty halls and pavilions along with a thatched-roof kiosk are tucked deep in the mountains. Mighty mountains complement this landscape in the far background.
On the right side, the boatmen are digging their poles into the water. The fisherman is fishing. These figures enrich the picture, adding new vitality into the landscape.
Down the left on the shore behind the rock, a thatched‐roofed hut and bamboo fence are exposed. A woman is holding a baby, two children are carrying loads on their shoulders while a dog is running around them.
Depictions of mountains, streams, woods and buildings as well as elements of less concrete forms, such as clouds and mists, haze, and atmosphere, reveals the extraordinary skills of the artist in terms of his manipulation of solid and void. The logical relationship between the mountains, rocks, trees, and water has also been explained by some scholars as symbolic of a harmonious and orderly relationship in nature and among people in an ideal empire.
With the main peak located in the center, clouds
wrap around high and low peaks on either side.
Li Tang's signature appears on a slender peak to the left and reads, “Painted by Li Tang of Heyang in spring of the Jiachen year (1124) of the Xuanhe Reign of the Great Song.”
The cliffs and peaks are imposing and rugged, and their texturing was done using brush strokes similar to wood chopped by an axe. The puffs of white clouds in the middleground not only appear to move, but also soften the features of the painting.
Cascades on either side of the central mountain fall from the heights, are broken up by the rock forms, and end up as the rushing stream in the left foreground.
Li Tang expanded the scale of the woods in the foreground while minimizing the major peak in the rear, making the scene more intimate to the viewer, and hence more comprehensible as a natural landscape.
"Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys" differs from the presentation of the previous two works.
In both "Travelers Among Mountains and Streams" and "Early Spring", though ordinary figures are shown as miniscule in relation to the mountains, the artists painstakingly rendered their status, clothing, actions, and expressions.
This notion of realism and narrative derives from the travel landscapes of the Tang and Five Dynasties period. In the middle Northern Song, during the latter half of the 11th century, this reached a perfection of expression.
The 12th century marks the last major imperial period of the Northern Song under Emperor Hui-tsung (r. 1101-1125). In his reign, painting was fused with poetry, and abstract images from literary sources and symbolic techniques were injected into painting. Here, "Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys" includes no narrative figures or buildings to distract from the focus of the scenery.
Rather, it uses the deep mountains, clouds, pines, waterfall, and rapids to suggest the theme of listening to wind rustling through pines deep in a valley...
...a motif often mentioned in poetry of the period.
National Palace Museum