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千里江山图 A Thousand Lis of Rivers and Mountains

Wang Xi Meng A Thousand Lis of Rivers and Mountains (parts) 千里江山图(局部)


At the end of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279), the whole China was facing a series of problems. The court was corrupted, the national military force was extremely weak, and the whole society was getting unprecedentedly conservative. In a word, the whole country was in severe crisis. However, in the same period art was developed at extremely high speed due to a series of art and culture policies initiated by Emperor HuiZong, who himself is a great artist. There are many great art works in this period, and one of the most famous paintings is this A Thousand Lis of Rivers ad Mountains, 千里江山图. It was completed in 1113 when the artist, Wang XiMeng 王希孟, was only 18 years old. This painting was done on silk. (click here to read more about painting silk.)

Wang XiMeng is one of the most famous artists of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). At age of ten, he started learning landscape painting, but soon he was sent to serve Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. Emperor Huizong believed Wang Ximeng was very talented and personally taught Wang XiMeng a lot of painting techniques. After a few months of study, Wang was offered the opportunity to visit and paint the famous mountains and great rivers in China. Gradually, he started to specialise in free-hand landscape painting and established his unique art style. Very soon his art achievements surpassed those of Zhang Zeduan (张择端), another famous artist in the development of Chinese Shanshui landscape painting. The young Wang XiMeng became very ambitious and was determined to add some brilliant elements to the Chinese painting art. Probably this is the background of how he created this  fantastic art work at such young age.

A Thousand Lis of Mountains and Rivers is a scroll of 11.9 meters long and is divided into six parts. The painting depicts the greatness of mountains and rivers by using a lot of Prussian blues. Thanks to the mineral pigments used for this painting, this painting still looks very vivid and bright after almost 1,000 years. (You might be interested in reading inkston article on Chinese painting/ Sumi E colour mixing chart.) The artist applied traditional painting techniques and style of Sui and Tang Dynasties. The whole work is extremely magnificent and splendid. The waterfall flows gently down the mountain cliff; the fisherman drifts his boat gently on the lake; children are playing happily on grass. In fact, if you look at the painting carefully, there are a lot of fine details. There are well-proportioned houses, quiet fishing villages and ancient long bridges and so on. Applied with fine pigments, the whole work is not only well-structured, but also very vivid and colourful. For example, the colours mostly used for this painting are: Azurite blue, Malachite green, Pearl white and black.

This painting is definitely a milestone in the development of landscape painting in Chinese art history. Using the special Chinese seals in this painting, China Post designed and published a set of nice stamps in 2017. Although Wang XiMeng died when he was only 23 years old, his art works are considered to play an important part in Chinese art history.

Click here for the complete painting.

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