This scroll, which faithfully adopts the traditional Chinese rendering of perspective in successive tiers, depicts a landscape of wooded rocky massifs in the center of which a waterfall plunges into a river. Near a pavilion, hidden in the abundant foliage, a man contemplates the scene. In a colophon, the painter explains the circumstances surrounding his work: “There I saw the authentic paintings of Nizan and of huang_Gongwang…From then on, my days were spent according to the impressions I kept of these paintings…” The strangeness of the landscape, with the dark mountain hemmed in by white clouds, is heightened by the swift, energetic brushwork. This type of painting is governed by that Chinese esthetic which is essentially concerned with “naturalness”. It is judged, not by the final, linear result, but by the quality of the gesture involved, with the emphasis on simplicity.
The technique employed is that ink on paper, and the brush has been used to build up the composition from confidently applied rings of ink with an infinite number of touches and highlights.
Shitao, a descendant of the imperial Ming family, is an exemplary figure in the long line of scholar-painters. Known under his Buddhist monk name of Daoji, or under his official name of Shitao (“petrified waves”), he was not only a landscape painter of repute but also a landscape architect, philosopher, poet and calligrapher. He skillfully drew inspiration from the Chinese landscape which, in principle, is never altered by man and which reveals the fascinating and terrifying faces of nature at its wildest.