Artist: Zhao Cangyun (Chinese, active late 13th–early 14th century)
Period: Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
Medium: Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions: Image: 8 7/8 in. x 18 ft. 5 in. (22.5 cm x 564 cm)
Credit Line: Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Gift of Oscar L. Tang Family, 2005
Accession Number: 2005.494.1
Painted by a member of the Song royal family who lived through the Mongol conquest, this handscroll, which revives the monochrome drawing style of the scholar-artist Li Gonglin (ca. 1041–1106), chronicles the legend of two men of the Han dynasty who stumble upon a magical realm of immortals. Returning home after what seemed like half a year, they discover that seven generations have come and gone and that they are alone in the world. The men’s loss of home and paradise evokes the disorientation and alienation felt by many of the Chinese elite following the fall of the Song dynasty in 1279.
What little we know of the artist is contained in the colophons mounted after the painting. The first, by Hua Youwu (1307–after 1386), describes Zhao Cangyun as an artist known for “boneless” (without outlines) ink-wash landscapes and delicate figure paintings. Hua also states that the artist was more famous in his youth than his fellow clansmen Zhao Mengjian (1199–before 1267) and Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). As Zhao Cangyun withdrew to the mountains and lived as a recluse, never marrying or serving as an official, no documentation, except this scroll, survives.