Guo Xi, the preeminent landscape painter of the late eleventh century, sought to give form to poetic images and emotions and was particularly interested in conveying the nuances of seasons and times of day. Old Trees, Level Distance,a variation on the classic “level-distance” formula of tall foreground trees set against a wide river valley, is probably a late work done for a fellow government official on the eve of his retirement. In the final section of the handscroll, the leafless trees and deepening mist impart a forlorn, autumnal air to a scene in which two elderly figures approach a pavilion, perhaps to join colleagues in bidding farewell to a friend.
Inscription: No artist’s inscription, signature, or seal
Unidentified artist, 1 column in standard script, undated:
Layered mists and dense fog obscure storied pavilions; Many sandy islets overlook the desolate expanse. The old tree's spirit will last a thousand years; The moist washes and the manner [of the trees] are as enduring as metal and rock. Amid the duckweed of misty islands, skiffs moor for the night, And still along the cold river bamboo grows. Of the honorable Guo [Xi]’s [paintings of] level vistas, few remain. How treasured the master-painter's works should be! Haisu [Feng Zizhen] [Seals]: Zizhen, Haisu, Guai guai daoren
3. Yu Ji 虞集 (1272–1348), 3 columns in standard script, undated:
白石漱水彌潔，青松遞雲轉高。 為問郭公畫裏，何如施氏東皋。 虞集題。
4. Ke Jiusi柯九思 (1290–1343), 3 columns in semi-cursive script, undated:
郭熙筆法出營丘，古木空亭老更幽。 記得溪橋曾訪隱，斜陽澹澹遠山秋。 柯九思賦。
5. Liu Guan柳貫 (1270–1342), 3 columns in standard script, undated; 1 seal:
郭熙工畫洛南山，品在荊關伯仲間。 鼇背小亭能著我，倚闌時送鶴飛還。 柳貫 [印]: 柳氏道傳
6. Yan Yaohuan 顏堯煥 (14th c.), 12 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 3 seals:
Su Shi [1037–1101] once wrote the poem:
In Jade Hall, dawn is shaded even on an idle spring day, within there is Guo Xi's painting of spring mountains.
Now Wen Yanbo, the Duke of Lu, had written a colophon on a painting by Guo Xi, and then Old Su Shi had composed a poem after this colophon. These two gentlemen were brilliant and famous officials of their time, but to be able to see such inscriptions nowadays-it is no longer possible! More than one painting by Guo Xi exists, however: take time to examine this Autumn Trees in a Level Distance [as he called Old Trees, Level Distance]. Its materials are from between the Baoyuan [1038–39] and the Yuanyou [1086-93] eras, now returned to the Route Commander Old Shi Donggao's writing table after three hundred years. Old Dong has obtained that which is rarely obtained; this painting has also encountered that which is rarely encountered; I too am able to see that which is rarely seen. For this reason I write him this poem in remembrance:
The fascination of Guo Xi's painting lies not in its colors, white rocks, withered rafts pillowed by the currents. This level distance contains sentiments in its illusory lands, its inscriptions enhance our distance from the past. On a single layer of white silk, clouds astir and flowing, for three hundred years and more, the stars have made several revolutions. Holding [the scroll] with Donggao, we often spread it out in appreciation, together with our lutes and books, we happily roam. Yan Yaohuan [Seals]: Yan Yaohuan zhang, Mingke, Jingxue