Arts of Asia


Homecoming Boat on a Wintry River, ca. 1620
Chen Lian (China, active Ming dynasty, 1368–1644)
Handscroll: ink and color on paper
8 1/4 x 61 3/4 inches
Gift of Class of 1908 1976-14-1

This landscape is attributed to the little-known painter Chen Lian. Following the style of the fourteenth-century landscape artist Huang Gongwang (1269–1354), Chen created abstract rounded and rectangular mountain forms and a sense of depth by depicting a clearly demarcated path at the base of the rocky promontory. However, he eliminated the austerity of Ming-period interpretations of Huang's style. Pale patches of blue, blue-green, and pink distinguish shapes and counteract their repetitiveness. Washes of ink, in some places blended with pale blue color, create an enveloping atmosphere, especially in the waterway. Chen applied ink to the dampened paper with a saturated brush, allowing the ink to bleed into the fibers. Traces of its absorption resemble cloud formations and create the illusion of motion. A fisherman in a boat in the middle of the water enhances the lyricism of the wintry landscape.

The artist created a transition from the right-hand section of the scroll to the left by transforming the waterway into a wintry sky over a shallow foreground. To the left of the waterway, a group of houses surrounded by leafless trees introduces a series of environments. The center of the scroll shows a bridge and a watercourse crossing a plain, and a grove of trees with bare branches sweeping against the sky. The end of the scroll at the left concentrates on a group of large trees that reach into the sky, balancing the first scene at the far right.

Painting texts of the late Ming and early Qing (1644–1911) dynasties indicate that Chen Lian mimicked the work of the fourteenth-century painter Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). Much like Zhao and unlike many of his contemporaries, Chen preferred to create a landscape scene that captured the qualities of natural appearances.

Text by Anne Burkus-Chasson, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008