La Falaise rouge
Papier, Encre, Couleurs - Pigments
徵明; 徵仲; 徵山
Inscription and signature: 款識：壬戌之秋，七月既望，蘇子與客汎舟，遊於赤壁之下。清風徐來，水波不興。舉酒屬客，誦明月之詩，歌窈窕之章。少焉，月出於東山之上，徘徊于斗牛之間。白露橫江，水光接天。縱一葦之所如，凌萬頃之茫然。浩浩乎如馮虛御風，而不知其所止，飄飄乎如遺世獨立，羽化而登仙。
Seals of the painter: 印: 1.徵仲（朱文） 2.衡山（朱文） This painting depicts a classical theme inspired by the “First Ode to the Red Cliff”, Qian Chibi fu 前赤壁賦, by Su Shi (1036-1101). The verses of this poem were transcribed by Wen Zhengming in the “small regular” script, xiaokai, 小楷, in the upper part of the composition. This literary subject, popular with the Wu school painters, was depicted numerous times by Wen Zhengming, usually in the form of a horizontal scroll. The text of “Ode to the Red Cliff”, also the subject of numerous transcriptions by Wen Zhengming in various styles, was sometimes directly connected to a painting, as is the case with this fan.
A story goes that at the age of eighty-six, Wen Zhengming transcribed Su Shi’s “Ode to the Red Cliff” in the “small regular” script in settlement of a debt contracted after a game of chess. Whatever the authenticity of the account, it reflects Wen Zhengming’s renown in a style of calligraphy requiring great technical skill and undiminished energy. For the author of this anecdote, the old man’s ability to execute “small regular” script illustrated his good physical and moral form. This interpretation, no doubt shared by Wen Zhengming’s contemporaries and, later, by his collectors, might also have applied to the Cernuschi Museum painting, dated 1552.
The landscape is also characterised by the delicate brushwork of the calligraphy. In counterpoint to this meticulous use of the brush, the colours, today faded, must have played an important role in the composition. While the red of the leaves in the foreground has retained its intensity, the green and, especially, the blue of the mountains have dulled. The work’s overall simplicity, reflecting a certain taste for archaism, also corresponds to the meditative nature of Su Shi’s text.