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Li Song was born in Qiantang (today's Hangzhou) to a poor family. In his teens he earned a life as a carpenter. Later he was adopted by Li Congxun (1119-1125), a court painter in the Painting Academy under the Huizong Emperor (r. 1101-1125). With enormous enthusiasm and diligence, Li Song himself became a court painter with consummate painting techniques. He served during three successive reigns: the Guangzong, Ningzong, and Lizong reigns (1190-1264), and was respectfully called "senior painting master for three reigns". He held mastery in portraits including Buddhism and Daoism figures, and landscapes. His most remarkable achievement was in rule-lined paintings.
This painting depicts a striking view of the Qiantang River bore. Every year from the sixteenth to the eighteenth day of the eighth lunar month when the sun, earth, and moon are in a line and thus the solar and lunar gravitation reach the maximum, large ocean tides form. Additionally, the Qiantang River is narrow at its mouth; every year at this time, the East Sea floods in rapidly and in a large amount, forming a magnificent bore.
The Song imperial court, after moving its capital to Lin'an (today's Hangzhou, Zhejiang province where the Qiantang River flows into the East Sea), held grand celebrations annually to view the bore. In this painting, huge waves crowd across the mouth of the Qiantang River. Boats in the river form a line to sail against the current. Distant mountains and residents living on the two shores are also depicted.
Thanks to his carpentry experience, Li Song became a master of architectural painting. The painting not only depicts the monumental bore, but also touches upon Lin'an, the capital city through which the Qiantang River flows. Interestingly, the artist did not focus on the complicated structure and exquisite decoration of the architecture as he usually did, but sketched the roof tiles with pale ink lines. The painting is different from the style of other works by Li Song; it is a rare piece handed down from the Painting Academy of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279).
The painting bears no seal or signature of Li Song. Inscriptions by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) are found on both front and back mounting silk. It is included in many painting catalogues, including A Collective Study on Calligraphy and Painting in Shigu Studio, Records of Painting and Calligraphy in Peiwen Studio, and the Qing dynasty imperial catalogue The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat: the First Edition.