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In the early winter of the fifth year (1082) of the Yuanfeng reign (1078–1085), Su Shi (1037–1101) and his companions visited the Red Cliffs by boat at night for a second time. That year, he wrote his Second Poetic Exposition on Red Cliff (Hou chibi fu) in an outpouring of his fatigue from official duties as well as his conflicted mental struggle with choosing between abandoning society for an aloof lifestyle and making compromises by engaging with the world. This painted scene by Qian Gu (1508–1579) has a dense composition with an elegant application of colors; it portrays Su’s description of precipitous rocks and a dense assortment of plants that made it difficult for his friends to follow him. The work is a commonly seen theme of Wu-school painters of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The fan leaf also features the entire text of the Second Poetic Exposition of Red Cliff as calligraphed by Gu Chengzhong (act. late-sixteenth century). The date given in the inscription is the fourth lunar month of the yichou year (1565), which was the forty-fourth year of the Jiajing reign (1522–1566).
Born in Wu County (in present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu Province), Qian Gu, who went by the courtesy name (zi) Shubao and the style name (hao) Qingshi, was an excellent painter of landscapes. Having received instruction from Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), he became an important late Wu-school painter.
Gu Chengzhong, originally from Changzhou (in present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu Province), was a talented calligrapher known by his courtesy name Zijian.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu