Wang Shih-ch’en, tzu Pao-ch’uan (‘to treasure and transmit’), hao Liang-fu (‘good beginning’), was from Ch’ang-chou, the modern Suchou in Kiangsu province. As his various given names suggest, Wang was born into an old and very venerable family. He was a sixth generation descendant of the famous Ming scholar and man of letters, Grand Secretary Wang Ao (1450-1524), and his father was Wang Ch’uan, who earned a degree in 1690 and rose to be Senior Metropolitan Censor for the Ministry of Rites. Given this background, it seems natural that Wang Shih-ch’en took top honors in the highest or palace examination of 1727. Appointed to serve first as Commissioner of Education of Shantung province, Wang later became Supervisor of Imperial Instruction, charged with directing the studies of the heir apparent.
Wang Ch’uan was an accomplished calligrapher and painter, and it was he who taught Wang Shih-ch’en the basics of those arts. However, the young man soon developed his own approach to art, one that was described in the 19th century T’ung-yin Lun-hua as follows: ‘His brush and ink work were moist and rich, and he selected his scenes with great freedom. There was absolutely nothing in his manner that was constrained or forced-truly the untramelled inkwork of a scholar. Although his style derived from Lu-t’ai (Wang Yuan-ch’i, 1642-1715), he used brush and ink extremely naturally, completely expunging any labored appearance …. ‘ [Ch’in Tsu-Yung: T’ung-yin Lun-hua, 1864, part I, chapter 2, p. 4a.]
Wang Shih-ch’en’s inscription here mentions as his inspiration the Northern Sung master Chiang Shen (ca.1090-1138), none of whose extant paintings look anything like the present work. Wang does, however, evoke a sense of the distant past through the use of archaic, hard-edged clouds and naively drawn houses and figures. The scene is then enlivened by the animated posturing of the trees–a scene indeed ‘selected with great freedom.’ Although the painting is not dated by inscription, the presence of Prince I’s seal indicates that it was painted before 1730. A colophon was then added later by Ch’ien Tien (1741-1806), nephew of the famous scholar Ch’ien Ta-hsin (1728-1804) and an important calligrapher in his own right.