Projecting hills, banks and trees define the course of a river over which travellers pass on a simple bridge. Their garments and postures suggest the presence of an icy wind that has already cleared leaves from all tree branches; suggestions of snow are conveyed by areas of blank silk left in reserve on peaks and rocks. This quiet scene is enlivened by variations in ink and brushwork, which range from dark accents to light washes and from smooth contour lines to slashing strokes and dots. While lacking great profundity, which was not the artist’s aim, the painting is unstudied in approach and delightfully refreshing in execution, hallmarks during the late Ming era of a true professional artist.
Ts’ao Hsi was born in Suchou, Kiangsu province. According to the later 17th century T’u-hui Pao-chien Hsu-tsuan, Ts’ao…excelled in painting figures and landscapes akin to those of the tradition of (16th century) Chou Ch’en. Although in want of antique conception, his brushwork was yet refined and elegant and his work beautiful.
During his later years, at least by the 1630s, Ts’ao Hsi moved to live in Hangchou. His paintings are still rather rare in Western collections but he is presently represented by works in the Tokyo National Museum, the Anhui Provincial Museum, the Nanjing Museum, the Shanghai Museum, the Tianjin Museum, and by no fewer than seven paintings in the Palace Museum, Beijing.