This work was painted as a gift to Jian Wenshu (1926-2010), the sixth daughter of renowned calligrapher and seal engraver Jian Jinglun, who studied under Zhang Daqian in the mid-1940s. Jian Wenshu emigrated to the United States after 1949. Having also moved to the Americas himself, Zhang Daqian maintained close contact with Jian Wenshu, who was living in New York. Over the years he gifted her several works, each meticulously executed.

Zhang Daqian (left) demonstrating for his student, Jian Wenshu (right) in the United States

This work was completed in September 1969, shortly after Zhang moved from Brazil to California to establish his residence, Ke-yi Ju, in Carmel City. In the painting, the artist made use of an unconstrained ink splashing technique that created a semi-to-complete abstract style favoured by the contemporary American market of the time.

The artist selected gold Japanese paper card for this work. He applied a bottom layer of light ink, over which shades of azurite, malachite, chalk and cinnabar were added, resulting in a dazzling, audacious yet controlled combination – as hues of gold and green beautifully counterbalance one another. The inks flow together at random, forming images between the different layers of colour as the artist carefully crafts a scene of desolate temples, mountain ridges of emerald, houses within lush forests, small bridges and soaring waterfalls, and a snowclad summit gleaming beneath a blazing sun. Every inch of the image reveals the artist’s apparent control, leaving only a narrow gap at the top of the painting for the sky. The painting’s dense composition, intense colouration, and rich scenery are a testament to Zhang’s mastery of both abstract and representational techniques, woven together in a magnificent visual symphony.

The painting offers little to indicate its actual location. However, were we to imagine ourselves within this work, then perhaps we would need to look no further than Yosemite National Park for a similar setting. Comparing the scenery from this painting with others such as Mountain in a Californian Summer and Mountain in an Autumn Sunset from the Mei Yuntang Collection, both completed in 1967, there are similarities in the colour splashing, composition and colour palette in the artist’s works created in the same vein. This painting was completed a several years after the aforementioned works and is adapted to fit this particular size of Japanese cardboard. In doing so, the artist created a behemoth in miniature, capturing the essence of the landscape without sacrificing a single part of its magnificence. It is a feat that is truly a testament to a lifetime of practice and artistic refinement.

This work is illustrated in various publications