‘Old Pines and Blue-green Peaks.’ Done after Chao Sung-hsueh (Chao Meng-fu, 1254-1322) by Yun Shou-p’ing in a grass hut at North Mountain. The immortal Master Wang Ch’iao traveled through the blue skies, holding in his mouth a goose-quill mouth organ with jasper mountings. He met a group of nine immortals, running about with variegated umbrellas. Of luxuriant appearance, their gossamer-light clothes were undecorated yet beautiful. At dusk they produced purple seal-ink in the Valley of Sunshine, and at sunset they dwelt with the Queen Mother of the West at K’un-lun, where the red pines at the peak of the range were regarded as brother to gold. Hung-yai clapped his shoulder and sang of seeing people beneath white clouds asking the way to the Waves of Hibiscus. He scaled the northern face of the green mountain and there were jade fungus and sweet springs. Coral trees were completed with extended branches that supported purple mist. Mandarin ducks and chicks played beneath them while condors soared above, like variegated dancers in the imperial hall, all with swaggering gait. He looked at that out-pouring of gold and sang of the cypress bridges connecting the stars like dancing girdle ornaments. How to cross that pure and cold gulf? In the rich Year of the Star (Jupiter), plant a kernel and then wait for three years. Master Wei, my elder friend, met me more than ten years ago. Master Wei is quick and perspicuous and has a magnanimous nature. He and his younger brothers rival one another in their accomplishments, some in literature and some in the military arts. The fame of his artistic accomplishments flies throughout the empire’s roads, (as though) assisted by the wings of mandarin ducks. During the third lunar month, spring of the year 1673, I met his honored father on his seventieth birthday, and he asked me for an ‘Old Pines and Blue-green Peaks’ picture as an adjunct to the resplendent dancing at the feast. Inscribed by Yun Shou-p’ing.’
The complex imagery of the inscription by Yun Shou-p’Ing evokes various Taoist immortals and their magical haunts where even mortals live forever, an appropriate wish for someone celebrating his seventieth birthday. Wang Ch’iao of the 1st century A.D. was a district magistrate who came to court on the back of wild ducks. Yang-ku, the Valley of Sunshine, was the place, possibly in modern Korea, where an official was stationed in order to verify the accuracy of the calendar. Hsi-wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West, lived in the K’un-lun mountains and in her garden grew peaches which ripened only once every three thousand years and conferred immortality on those who ate them. Hong-yai was an immortal who served as an official under the Yellow Emperor and presumably knew at first hand the glories of the Taoist fairylands.
The present work is larger and far more complex than many of Yun’s other paintings, and in this sense it is comparable to Shen Chou’s (1427-1509) ‘Lofty Mount Lu’ of 1467, which was done for the seventieth birthday of his teacher, again a special occasion that called for more than ordinary effort. Yun’s pine trees here are close in style to those appearing in the earlier work, and both paintings depend ultimately on Yuan dynasty models, on Wang Meng in the case of the Ming painting and on Chao Meng-fu for the Ch’ing work. A fan painting done by Yun Shou-p’ing in 1673 also after the style of Chao Meng-fu includes the same archaistic clouds that serve to characterize the present scene as an other-worldly paradise, peopled not at all and thus a paradigm for peace.
Yun Shou-p’ing was born Yun Ke in Wu-chin, Kiangsu province, the third and youngest son of Yun Jih-ch’u (1601-1678). The father was still a student in the National University when Shou-p’ing was born; in that year Jih-ch’u made the ‘honorable mention’ list at the second-level examination and went to the capital where his older brother, Yun Pen-ch’u (1586-1655) was serving as a drafter. Both brothers became active members of the Fu-she, or ‘Revival Society’. In 1641 Jih-ch’u drew up a five-point plan for border defense; when it was not implemented he decided that nothing could be done to ward off Manchu aggression, returned home, gathered up his three-thousand volume library, and together with his younger sons withdrew into the T’ien-t’ai Mountains. After the fall of Peking and then Nanking to the Manchus in 1644-45, the Prince of Lu, who had established himself in Shao-hsing, urged Jih-ch’u to join him; he refused, moving first to Fu-chou in Fukien province, and then to Kuang-chou as the Manchus advanced southward. In 1647 Jih-ch’u agreed to help the loyalist leader Wang Ch’i in attacking P’u-ch’eng, the first stage of a plan to retake Fukien province. Due to a bad storm in which horses and men became mired in mud, the attack failed and Jih-ch’u’s eldest son was killed. The following year the Manchu general Ch’en Chin (d. 1652) led 60,000 men against the loyalist stronghold in Chien-ning, Wang Ch’i was killed, the second of Jih-ch’u’s sons disappeared, and the third son, Shou-p’ing, was captured by the Manchu forces and held at their headquarters.
When Ch’ en Chin’s wife desired some new jewelry she had craftsmen submit sketches, but none suited her. Someone said that the young prisoner, Yun Shou-p’ing, was a painter, and he was brought before the wife. Yun was evidently a comely youth and, having been able to recite verses from the Lotus Sutra at the age of seven, was clearly very intelligent, as well as talented in painting, in which both he and his father had been trained by Yun Pen-ch’u, known later as Yun Hsiang. Ch’en Chin and his wife had no son and decided to adopt the fifteen-year-old boy. Yun Jih-ch’u had meanwhile returned home to Wu-chin where he thought continuously of his two missing sons. One day, in Hangchou, he saw his youngest riding as part of Ch’en Chin’s entourage and started planning to secure his son’s return. He learned that Ch’en and his wife greatly esteemed Abbot Ti-hui of the Ling-yin Temple; Jih-ch’u, who had become a monk himself some years earlier, was a friend of Ti-hui and able to enlist his help. It happened that the women of the region were scheduled to come to the temple to offer incense to the Buddha, after which they were to be presented to the abbot. When Ch’en Chin’s wife brought her adopted son before him, Ti-hui commented on the boy’s obvious intelligence but observed that the lad was fated to die young unless he became a priest. Loving the boy as she did, Yun’s foster mother had no choice but to leave her son at the Ling-yin Temple; here he studied poetry and calligraphy with the abbot until Ch’en Chin’s death. Yun was then free to return to live with his father at the east garden in Wu-chin, where the father supported them by working as a teacher. As Yun Shou-p’ing grew older he too began to contribute to their livelihood by selling his paintings, which he normally signed with his byname Shou-p’ing rather than his given name Ke.
By the very late 1640s or early 1650s Yun had met Wang Hui (1632-1717), who became his lifelong friend. According to Yun’s great-grandson, ‘Yun Shou-p’ing became friends with Wang Hui of Yu-shan. Wang’s landscapes were very similar to those of Yun. Yun looked at them and said with a grin: ‘Two sages do not get on well with one another. You, my lord, will dominate all beneath the heavens with your landscapes; how can I too devote myself to the subject?’ and he then did flowers, plants, and drawings-from life.’ While Yun continued to paint landscapes until the end of his life, he in fact became known primarily for his bird-and- flower paintings. He was not as successful as Wang, however, for he refused to curry favor with influential collectors and potential patrons. He thus lived simply throughout his life-the houses in which he lived were all borrowed from friends, and his burial had to be paid for by Wang Hui-but always with an elegant flair; according to one friend: ‘I visited Yun Shou-p’ing and entered the house. The entrance hall was empty and quiet and clumps of chrysanthemums filled the stairs. Its style would truly not shame a famous scholar-official.’
Another of Yun’s friends described his method of working: ‘He got up each day at early dawn. He himself boiled water for tea, washed his face and hands, and prepared the lead-white and cinnabar- red pigments. Spreading out paper he would then paint. By the time the others had all gathered, the lead-white and cinnabar-red would be gone and any unfinished pictures would be stored in a case. For the rest of the day he would not paint a single stroke and do no more than play chess, sing, and drink.’ The quiet hours of very early morning must have been conducive to work and also to such observations on the nature of creativity as the following: ‘Brush and ink can be perceived; the well-springs of the universe cannot be perceived. Squares and compasses can be acquired; overtones of the unmanifested cannot be acquired. How can those who use what can be perceived and what can be acquired to pursue what cannot be perceived and cannot be acquired do it easily by effort alone!’
Through his friendship with Wang Hui, Yun met a number of important collectors of the day, including Wang Shih-min (1592-1680) but only days before the latter’s death in 1680. Wang Shih-min had known of Yun’s talent for at least ten years and had sought to meet him through invitations extended via Wang Hui. However, Yun was somehow never able to find the time or the proper occasion on which to visit this very important and potentially helpful person. Yun’s reluctance was likely determined by loyalty to his father, who had been opposed to Wang’s political faction during the late Ming years; when Yun did finally agree to meet Wang it was after his father’s death in 1678. Yun and Wang Hui arrived at Shih-min’s estate on the eighth day of the sixth lunar month but left after seeing him very briefly on his sick-bed. On the seventeenth Shih-min died, after which a search of his bed turned up ten gold taels. A servant explained later: ‘Knowing that his two guests Wang and Yun were about to arrive, he wished to leave this for their expenses.’ In subsequent years Yun became quite close to several of Wang Shih-min’s sons, one of whom, Wang P’u, had even before 1680 written a story, ‘Vulture Peak Record,’ based on Yun’s early life. The third son, Wang Shan, who eventually became a grand secretary, played a dramatic role in Yun’s later life. A certain judicial official in Suchou had been frustrated in his attempts to get a painting from Yun; growing increasingly angry, he had Yun brought forcibly to Suchou, intending to humiliate him in public the next day. Being a commoner, Yun had no legal recourse and turned to Wang Shan for assistance. Wang’s house in T’ai-ts’ang was already shut up for the night when Yun’s messenger arrived, but Wang immediately set out for Suchou on horseback, following a servant who carried a lamp suspended on a bamboo pole tied to his back. The city gate opened at five o’clock and Wang Shan-a member of the Hanlin Academy-stormed through to secure Yun’s release.
Yun’s influence on such later artists as Hua Yen (1682-1756) was very great and according to Yun himself he had imitators even during his lifetime. ‘In recent days the drawing-from-life specialists mostly follow my ‘boneless’ flower style which completely transforms the thickness of washes. At a time when there are both elegant and vulgar practices these are sufficient to please the eye and gratify the heart, but when models are transmitted for a long time, they become like the overflow of a goblet (like the source of the Yangtze, the small beginnings of a great flood). I thus praise very highly the quiet and refined type of flower paintings of Sung artists, and those wishing to employ the gay and variegated attitudes of cosmetics should return again to the natural colors.’
The present ‘Old Pines and Blue-green Peaks’ manifests perfectly Yun’s own aesthetic ideals: ‘Not falling into well-worn ruts is called having a scholarly air; not entering into the trends of the times is called having an untrammeled style.’