'This elegant scroll depicts a tranquil, lyrical spring scene of river and hills which appear to float on the water. Sunset rain is suggested by the straw hats worn by the tiny figure walking on the footpath and the fishermen in their boats. The composition follows the traditional principle of a bird's-eye view of a staggered three-stage structure of foreground, middle ground and distance, each stretching almost horizontally from the left and right. The hills and mountains have an earthy effect which mainly comes from the moss dots, but is enhanced by the textural strokes and by a wash of light ink and green colour over the darker portions. The whole mass becomes a vivid depiction of the geomorphology in Jiangnan region.
Wu Li, a native of Changsu, Jiangsu province, was recognised as one of the six leading orthodox painters of the early Qing, together with the 'Four Wangs' and Yun Shouping. His life, however, shows a marked departure from those of the other leading masters. While the Four Wangs were involved in the official world, Wu Li never served in the government but gradually moved toward a life in search of individualism, which finally led him to convert to Christianity in 1681.
This scroll was executed when Wu Li was 40 years old and just beginning his search for non-Chinese religious knowledge from Roman Catholic priests. The composition is inscribed on the right top as follows: 'The boat goes out daily casting the nets. Floating on top of the water are countless layers of peach blossom petals. I enquire as to the whereabouts of the immortal paradise, only to be met by the river and sky shrouded in the mist of sunset rain. Inscribed at the morning window at the new studio, for the older master Jiang of the Siyuan Studio, on the second day of the seventh moon of the year 'xinhai' . Wu Li of Yanling'
The inscription is followed by a seal of the artist, 'Wu Li'. There is another seal of the artist in the lower left corner, 'Wu Li of Yushan'. Two collectors' seals are also seen in the lower left corner, 'Xu of Wuxing' and 'Once in the collection of Li of Menan.''
‘The Asian Collections: Art Gallery of New South Wales’. pg.152.
© 2003 Trustees, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Landscape with Willows
Place where the work was made
hanging scroll; ink and colour on paper
57.8 x 22.9 cm image; 159.5 x 51.0 cm scroll
Signature & date
Signed and dated u.r., in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "... on the second day of the seventh moon of the year of Xinhai (1671). Wu Li of Yanling.".
Signed u.r., in Chinese, stamped in red ink "Wu Li [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l.corner, in Chinese, stamped in red ink "Yushan Wuli (Wu Li of Yushan) [artist's seal]".
Edward and Goldie Sternberg Chinese Art Purchase Fund 1998
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 2 exhibitions
The connoisseur and the philanthropist: 30 years of the Sternberg Collection of Chinese Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 31 Jan 2014–27 Apr 2014
Conversations through the Asian collections, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 Oct 2014–13 Mar 2016
Referenced in 4 publications
Daphne Lange Rosenzweig, Selected works from the fine arts group collection of later Chinese paintings, Chapter C. 'Landscape Paintings', pg. 166-251, Jerusalem, 1991, 178 (colour illus.), 179-184. plate no. 28
Sotheby's Hong Kong, "Fine Chinese Paintings: Property of the Estate of Dr. Ip Yee"., Hong Kong, 21 Nov 1984, illus.. lot no. 34, This work was listed under the title 'Landscape with Willows' with a hammer price of HK$82,500.
Sotheby's New York, Paintings by Ming and Ch'ing Masters from the Lok Tsai Hsien Collection, New York, 1976. lot.no. 32
Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape Painting', Sydney, 2003, 152 (colour illus.).