Painted in a sparse, dry manner, this massive mountain landscape seems quite spacious. We look down at a small stretch of flat land with a few houses and trees nestled into the base of the mountains. A stream winds diagonally through the landscape flowing and cascading from upper left to lower right where it joins the larger river in the foreground. By entering the picture at the lower left and following the diagonal of the shoreline back up the stream to its source, one describes a gentle S-shaped curve. The Chinese sometimes refer to this common compositional structure of landscape paintings as dragon veins (comparatively speaking, this is a weak dragon).
Cha Shibiao’s thin washes and dry brushwork evoke a mood of lofty loneliness and poetic reverie. The mountains are outlined in pale wet ink with broken contour lines. Light washes and dry brushstrokes create a thin, transparent surface for the mountains that are nevertheless solid and substantial. The term yipin (unfettered) became associated in the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) with this kind of dry, plain brushwork of the amateur-painter who was not seeking to excite or impress others but to record and share his feelings with like minds.
Can you find the person in the landscape?
What other signs of man’s presence is there?
Can you find the temple buildings?
In the detail of the landscape, we can see Cha Shibiao's brushwork more clearly. The foreground rocks and embankment edge are defined with severed or twisted band lines. The brush is held vertically with the tip drawing the horizontal line and then is turned at the corner so the vertical or diagonal lines are painted with the side of the brush. These eroded rock shapes are then given their feeling of solidity and form with light ink washes, dry brush texturing, and dark and light horizontal dian or dots.
Also in this detail we can clearly see the solitary man with his bramble staff, who pauses in his walk to turn and look up at the southern sky, as Cha describes in the inscription:
A thatched cottage emerges from cloudy bamboo.
The color of the bamboo and the sound of the pines
sweeping [in the breeze] are pleasant.
Sunset descends over dim streams.
As I walk with a stick, Southern Mountain is visible
I painted this for Mr. Zhongba’ s departure, in commemoration
of our days together. Your townsman, brother Cha Shibiao,
in the ninth lunar month of the cyclical year bingyin of the
Kangxi reign .
The narrow young pines and leafy bamboo can be seen by the houses; an old pine, a large bare willow, and another tree with few leaves grow out of the hillock in the foreground. Traditional patterns for foliage are freely interpreted and loosely painted.