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Nine years facing the wall

late 19th century-early 20th century


Wang Zhen


1867 - 1938


‘Wang Zhen was an ‘amateur’ scholar-artist who took to painting relatively late in life having previously been a successful and wealthy Shanghai businessman. This endearing and robust image of the Buddhist deity Bodhidharma, the chief patriarch of Chan (or Zen) Buddhism, reveals the imaginative and energetic combination of tradition and modernity in late 19th and early 20th century Chinese painting. According to legend, Bodhidharma achieved Enlightenment after spending nine years staring at a blank wall. This empathy with the Buddhist ideal is alluded to in the inscription on the right by the well-known Beijing intellectual of the time, Cai Yuanpei. The scroll is signed ‘Bailong shanren’ (white dragon hermit) and the poem, by Wang, is an ode to Bodhidharma:

‘Nine years facing the wall,
Shadow impressed on stone;
To move is not so good
As it is to be stationary.’’

‘The Asian Collections: Art Gallery of New South Wales’. pg.168
© 2003 Trustees, Art Gallery of New South Wales


Other Titles



Place where the work was made



late 19th century-early 20th century

Media categories

Painting , Calligraphy

Materials used

hanging scroll; ink and colours on paper


148.3 x 80.5 cm

Signature & date

Signed c.l., in Chinese, inscribed in black ink “Bailong shanren”. Not dated.
Signed c.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink "Wang Zhen [artist's seal]".


Purchased 1989


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Wang Zhen

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Edmund Capon, Orientations, 'Modern Chinese Paintings in the Art Gallery of New South Wales: The Shanghai School and its Impact', pg. 104-109, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 107 (colour illus.). fig.4

Matt Cox and Natalie Seiz, Look, 'Character study', pgs. 22-26, Sydney, Sep 2016, 26 (colour illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: East Asia', pg. 246-287, Sydney, 1999, 261 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, Contemporary Chinese Painting, 'Wang Zhen', Sydney, 1985, 14 (illus.).

Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 207 (colour illus.).

Art of the Brush - Chinese & Japanese painting calligraphy, Sydney, 1995, 12, 14 (illus.).

The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'The Shanghai School and Modern Painting', Sydney, 2003, 168 (colour illus.).

Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1990, 8 (colour illus.).

Art Gallery of New South Wales: highlights from the collection, Sydney, 2008, 170 (colour illus.), 171, 175 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 175 is a detail of this work.