Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Hui

WANG Hui 王翬 (T. 石谷, H. 耕煙散人, 清暉主人 and 烏目山人), Apr. 10, 1632–1717, Nov. 15, was a native of Ch'ang-shu, Kiangsu. His great-great-grandfather, Wang Po-ch'ên 王伯臣 (T. 鑑汝, H. 劍池), was a painter of birds and flowers who was highly praised by a contemporary artist, Shên Chou 沈周 (T. 啟南, H. 石田, 1427–1509). His father also painted. Coming from a family of painters, he inherited a natural gift in the art of painting and devoted his whole life to it. As his family was not wealthy his opportunities for study and for seeing good paintings were very limited until he was about twenty when he first met the celebrated painter, Wang Chien [q. v.]. Wang Hui, having learned of the visit of Wang Chien to Ch'ang-shu, presented him, through a friend, with a fan which he had painted. Wang Chien was greatly pleased with the picture and immediately asked to see the young artist. In their interview Wang Chien arranged to accept Wang Hui as a pupil and on his return took Wang Hui with him to T'ai-ts'ang where he first taught him calligraphy and then showed him sketches of pictures as well as noted specimens of old paintings. This proved to be such a great stimulus to Wang Hui's latent genius for painting that his progress was unusually rapid. Later he was introduced by Wang Chien to another great painter, Wang Shih-min [q. v.]. The latter was so pleased with the young man's work that, in the hope of developing him to his fullest extent, he put him up in his country villa, about four miles west of the city of T'ai-ts'ang, and gave him the opportunity to study his rich collection of the old masters. In addition to being a great painter, Wang Shih-min was also a careful critic and was frequently invited by connoisseurs of neighboring districts to see their treasures. On these trips Wang Shih-min always took Wang Hui with him, thus giving him a chance to see paintings in other collections. This period of training lasted twenty years, at the end of which Wang Hui had become a really great painter. His reputation reached the Court and he was invited to Peking in connection with the painting of a picture known as the 南巡圖 Nan-hsün t'u, depicting a tour of Emperor Shêng-tsu to South China. He was placed at the head of a group of noted artists for the execution of this important work. The general idea of the picture was to cover all of the important aspects of the country visited by the Emperor. This was a difficult matter, and it was Wang Hui who laid out the general plan of the different scenes, while the other artists worked as he directed. The Emperor was pleased with the picture and offered to give Wang Hui an appointment at the capital, but he declined, since he preferred the unrestricted life of a private painter, which he enjoyed until his death at the age of eighty-six (sui).

In painting, Wang Hui exhibited the work of a genius who had in addition a thorough training. According to him, a landscape can be considered perfect only when it has a combination of the vigor in brushstrokes of the Yüan, the delicacy in composition of the Sung, and the vitality of the work of Tang artists. He was strongly opposed to the way in which painters divided into schools, for it was his opinion that a painter should not confine himself to a particular style, but should study the works of all the great masters of the past. His work had attained such a high degree of refinement that when Wang Chien saw it in later years he remarked that it was not necessarily true that a teacher can always excel his pupil. Wang Shih-min was so satisfied with Wang Hui that he considered it a rare opportunity to have met this great painter during the closing days of his life, and only deplored the fact that Tung Ch'i-ch'ang [q. v.], with whom he himself had studied painting, did not have the same privilege. Yün Shou-p'ing [q. v.] had been a landscape painter until he met Wang Hui, but he then became so deeply impressed with the excellent qualities of Wang's work that he decided to devote himself to the painting of flowers, leaving the field of landscape painting to Wang Hui, on the ground that he was better in this realm than himself. During the first years of the Ch‘ing dynasty Wang Shih-min and Wang Chien were the two great painters and were known as The Two Wangs (二王). The number of Wangs was increased to three with the advent of Wang Hui, and the three of them were ranked together as The Three Wangs (三王), despite the fact that the two senior Wangs were much older and also higher in social standing than Wang Hui. With the later addition of Wang Yüan-ch'i [q. v.], a grandson of Wang Shih-min, and Yün Shou-p'ing and Wu Li [q. v.], they formed the six celebrated painters of the dynasty—the Four Wangs, Yün and Wu.

Wang Hui had a wide circle of friends among the literary men of his time who were generous in writing eulogistic compositions in his honor as well as annotations and verses in praise of his paintings. A collection of these writings was made by Wang himself and published in 10 chüan under the title 清暉贈言 Ch'ing-hui tsêng-yen. This collection was reprinted in 1836 by Wang Yüan-chung 王元鍾, one of his descendants in the sixth generation. A collection of letters addressed to Wang Hui from noted men of his time, such as Kao Shih-ch'i, Chou Liang-kung, Wu Wei-yeh, Sung Lao and Wang Hung-hsü [qq. v.], was assembled and published by Pi Lung 畢龍 (T. 潤飛, H. 竹凝, younger brother of Pi Yüan, q. v.), in 2 chüan, under the title 清暉閣贈貽尺牘 Ch'ing-hui ko tsêng-i ch'ih-tu, reprinted in 1911. Some of Wang's own annotations may be found in the 畫學心印 Hua-hsüeh hsin-yin under the heading Ch'ing-hui hua-pa (畫跋).

[1/509/3b; 3/431/26a; 20/1/00 (portrait); 26/1/13b; 27/4/1a; L.T.C.L.H.M., pp. 63–68.]

John C. Ferguson