Artist: Guo Xi (Chinese, ca. 1000–ca. 1090)
Period: Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)
Date: ca. 1080
Medium: Handscroll; ink and color on silk
Dimensions: Image: 14 in. × 41 1/8 in. (35.6 × 104.4 cm)
Overall with mounting: 14 3/4 in. × 28 ft. 1/8 in. (37.5 × 853.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., in honor of Douglas Dillon, 1981
Accession Number: 1981.276
Guo Xi was the preeminent landscape painter of the late eleventh century. Although he continued the Li Cheng (919–967) idiom of "crab-claw" trees and "devil-face" rocks, Guo Xi's innovative brushwork and use of ink are rich, almost extravagant, in contrast to the earlier master's severe, spare style.
Old Trees, Level Distance compares closely in brushwork and forms to Early Spring, Guo Xi's masterpiece dated 1072 (National Palace Museum, Taipei). In both paintings, landscape forms simultaneously emerge from and recede into a dense moisture-laden atmosphere: rocks and distant mountains are suggested by outlines, texture strokes, and ink washes that run into one another to create an impression of wet blurry surfaces. Guo Xi describes his technique in his painting treatise Linquan gaozhi (Lofty Ambitions in Forests and Streams): "After the outlines are made clear by dark ink strokes, use ink wash mixed with blue to retrace these outlines repeatedly so that, even if the ink outlines are clear, they appear always as if they had just come out of the mist and dew."