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The artist’s inscription on this painting notes the date as the second month of the guiwei year (1943), the place of painting as Sunset Studio (Xiashan zhai) on the slope of Jin’gang, and the subject as deriving from the poetry of Du Fu (712–770). Three seals serve as additional signatures on the work; they are “Fu” (the artist’s surname), “Frequently after Becoming Intoxicated” (Wangwang zuihou), and “Great Transformation of the Trail” (Zongji dahua) in relief, which shows the characters in vermillion ink.
As noted in Fu’s inscription, the painting depicts the subject of a poem called “Beautiful Woman” (Jia ren) by the Tang-dynasty (618–907) poet Du Fu. The poem’s protagonist is a woman abandoned by her husband during the turmoil of war. Facing the rejection by her husband as he seeks a new lover, she survives the chaos war and tragically loses loved ones. In spite of experiencing the cruelty of life, she perseveres and refuses to yield to her seemingly inescapable fate. Accepting an unconventional lifestyle in the wilderness, she considers the grass and trees as her neighbors.
Fu Baoshi focused on the last two pentasyllabic lines of the poem, which describe the woman enduring the frigid winter in her thin silk garments and resting introspectively by the bamboo as the sun sets. The painting shows a fatigued woman without adornments on her head or in her hair. The bamboo hints at the flexible strength of this pure and noble woman.
The tragic poem is actually a reflection of the hardship Du Fu personally experienced. Although he suffered without adequate food or clothing, he never lost sight of his love for his people and homeland. Fu Baoshi’s depiction of the poem is an expression of his anxiety regarding the future of his country during the war of resistance against Japan.
The Palace Museum received this work as a donation from Fu Baoshi’s wife Luo Shihui.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying