A solitary fisherman trolls from a boat on a middle-ground river. Below, in the foreground, trees line the riverbank while above appears a house beneath trees at the foot of a serried mountain rising to the top of the picture. The prominent dottings used to suggest grass and shrubbery as well as to articulate the rock and mountain forms are explained in the artist’s inscription by his reference to the ideas of Chu-jan (active ca. 960-985) (fig. 1). Even though separated by about seven hundred years, the works do bear a family resemblance, although the means by which the later work was created—the brushwork—is far more evident, and this is characteristic of the period during which the artist worked.
Ts’ao Yueh, tzu Tz’u-yueh, hao Ch’iu-yai, was born in T’ai-hsing, Jiangsu province. Although he is said to have studied with Tung Ch’i-ch’ang (1555-1636), it seems more likely that he learned from that theorist the roster of earlier masters worthy of emulation, hence his use of the style of Chu-jan in the present painting. Late in his career Ts’ao Yueh travelled to Peking, where he was praised and feted by such literati luminaries as Chu I-tsun (1629-1709) and Wang Shih-chen (1634-1711). He also became known for his generous nature such that he frequently sought to elevate those he studied with, an attitude so rare that he became even more famous.
1. See catalogue 14 for a portrait of Chu I-tsun.
Fig. 1. Chu-jan: “Buddhist Retreat by Stream and Mountain,” after Cleveland Museum of Art: Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting, Cleveland, 1980, cat. 11.