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Returning Late from a Spring Outing

Dai Jin (戴進, 1388–1462), Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, 167.9 x 83.1 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

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       In the lower right corner of this painting is a wall surrounding a residence blocked from our view. The greenery and peach blossoms in the scene indicate the season as spring. Judging from the darkness, it appears to be late in the day. A scholar is shown knocking at the door as a servant approaches from within holding a light, illustrating the poetic idea of a master returning late from a spring outing. Depicted also is an expanse of water with a small path upon which local farmers shoulder hoes and return home. In the distance, womenfolk are feeding the fowl. Although the figures are small, the details of local life reveal the artist’s skill at observation and depiction.

       Although Dai Jin based the style here on those of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui in the Southern Song (1127–1279), his daring brushwork emphasizes expressiveness for an impressive style that is spirited and varied. The compositional formula of leaving a large portion of the surface blank also derives from the Southern Song academic mode. However, the surface is flatter with the distances appearing in the same plane. This emphasis on surface rather than space is a distinctive feature of Zhe School painting. Although bearing no signature or seal of the artist, the style belongs to that of Dai Jin and was probably painted by him when he was in Beijing.

       Although Dai Jin’s style was influenced by various Song and Yuan masters, it appears to derive most clearly from the Southern Song court style. However, he was not constrained by any particular style as he developed his own mode of painting. His daring yet mature brushwork yielded a variety of ink effects. Spirited and free, but not uncontrolled, this is a classic example of Dai Jin’s style.