“Within the hoary and old appears the full and sleek,
for the ancestral style of Sinong (Wang Yuanqi) is combined
with the ink method of Gengyan (Wang Hui),
truly to be praised as a collaboration.
Xinlu, my third elder brother,
requested this inscription. Lianquan.”
Seal: one, illegible.
“The legacy of Lutai (Wang Yuanqi) lies in his surpassing brushwork.
How can one follow the extreme of excellence by looking
at the waters of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers?
Mist and waves are within the household of the painter. Inscribed by Zailang.”
Wang Chen (1720-1797) was born in Taicang, Jiangsu province, into a most distinguished family of painters, scholars, and officials. A sixth-generation descendant of Wang Shimin (1592-1680), Wang Chen was the great-grandson of Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715). After having received the juren degree in 1760, Wang first served on the support staff of the Grand Secretariat and some years later as sub-prefect of Yichang in Hubei province. In 1782 he was promoted to prefect of Yongzhou in Hunan, his highest position before he retired in 1780. Wang lived out his life as the guest of Bi Yuan (1730-1797), the governor of Huguang and an important collector and patron of artists.
In the present painting Wang’s impressive artistic lineage is acknowledged in the colophons but is equally visible in the painting itself. The composition is built of units of limited variety in size and shape, organized in structures of great stability, and there is little sense of atmospheric perspective. Primary emphasis is on brushwork applied in a special, definable mode of blending wet and dry strokes, darker over lighter, overlaid to build up a contour or define a surface. All of this is characteristic of the literati school of painting that evolved among the followers of Dong Qichang, primarily with the ancestors of Wang Chen.
This family heritage was strengthened by his study with Dong Bangda (1699-1769), a direct pupil of his illustrious great-grandfather. Wang Chen was eventually grouped with Wang Yu, Wang Su, and Wang Jiu—three other descendants of the Four Wangs of the early Qing—as the “Four Lessor Wangs.” Wang Chen’s reputation was further enhanced by his major book on the history of painting, the Huilu facai.
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