On the painting Old Trees and Wintry Crows, the anonymous painter inscribes the name of Wang Hui, an early Qing-dynasty (1644–1911) painter, to show admiration. This also suggests an emulation of Wang’s style—dots and long and short brushstrokes combine to create a dense composition.
Lifeless trees and crows dominate the painting and construct a desolate mood, similar to the scenery in Ma Zhiyuan’s Autumn Thoughts. “People’s homes” suggest comfort, but accentuate the overall desolation. Ma, living in the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), might have used the deserted scene as a metaphor for his country invaded by Mongols. Thus, the homeless and lonely traveler in the poem possibly refers to himself.
Composed hundreds of years earlier, Ma’s poem may have inspired the painter. The painter also witnessed a historical transition and used the desolate painting to depict 19th-century China where rebellions and wars occurred. The vague ink wash under the artist’s seals could suggest the back shadow of a homeless traveler in the poem and also likely refers to the artist who lost a place to stay. Thus, the painting parallels the poem not only visually, but also spiritually.
Poem selection and label by Xiaoqing Luo ’18