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The Artist Wu Wei. 1459-1508

Updated on August 27, 2014

Wu studied the refined baimiao ink mono-chrome, linear figure style

The artist Wu (given name Wei, sobriquet Shih-ying, and with many self-adopted nicknames such as the one on his seal) was a native of Wuch'ang, Hupei Province in central China, but moved to the east while still a child. He must have come from a humble home, for he was taken in by a richer household as a companion to their son. It was in this capacity that he first demonstrated his artistic talents and was encouraged to develop them. He went to Nanking as a young man and there achieved renown as a painter.

Subsequently, he was summoned to court, and served under the Ming emperors, Hsien-tsung who reigned from 1465 to 1487 and Hsiao-tsung, who succeeded him in 1488 and reigned until 1505. Even in those exalted circles, he did not alter his naturally "bohemian" character, often appearing drunk before the emperor to paint with great flourishes and sweeps of the brush. It was said that to obtain a painting from him, all one had to do was go along with wine in hand and a singing girl on the arm.

The Emperor Xiaozong gave Wu a seal that read “First Among Painters” in the sixteenth century

Painting has always been regarded by the Chinese as a supreme art

The Pleasures of the Fishing Village

Public Domain - A glimpse into life in a Chinese fishing village during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Painted by Wu Wei (1632-1718), this landscape painting was made with ink and color on paper.
Public Domain - A glimpse into life in a Chinese fishing village during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Painted by Wu Wei (1632-1718), this landscape painting was made with ink and color on paper. | Source

The character of the artist is revealed in his painting. The motif was a revered one in China, enjoying its greatest expression in works of the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127-1260). In examples of this classical period, however, man, manifested in his noblest role as a scholar according to the Chinese ideal, is not the focus. He is usually placed at one corner of the composition, in scale neither negligible nor dominant. Attention is drawn to what he contemplates - a vast and nebulous void, the realm of the mind and the spirit. Usually, no object of contemplation is indicated but introspection is suggested. Wu Wei's work, on the other hand, concentrates upon man.

The scholar is large in scale and no room remains within the scroll to convey what he may be pondering. Instead, the painter's personality is so forcefully displayed in this work as to be the primary element. Who could ignore the eccentric and varied qualities of his brush-work? Both content and execution inform us that it is man himself which is the subject of this painting. The vision here is no longer of something within, and yet beyond, man; instead, man himself has become the focus of vision.

Samples of His Art


Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley

Shanghai Museum
Shanghai Museum | Source


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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Beautiful and fascinating artwork. Too often in western society we focus on the European masters and neglect artists of other cultures, to our detriment. Great hub.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I know little about this kind of art, but I DO know beauty when I see it. Thank you for sharing Wu Wei's art.


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