Friday, February 17, 2006

By a pine-shaded stream

The first of Wallace Stevens’ ‘Six Significant Landscapes’ depicts an old man in China, sensing the wind blowing a pine tree, blue and white larkspur and his own beard, their movement like water running over weeds. According to Zhaoming Qian, Stevens’ poem is reminiscent of landscape painting from the Ma-Xia school, named after Ma Yuan (active ca. 1189-1225) and Xia Gui (active ca. 1180-1224). For example, Ma Yuan’s Watching the Deer by a Pine-shaded Stream has a scholar gazing at a landscape in which pine trees wave and water streams over rocks. Stevens may not have had a specific painting in mind, but he was certainly influenced by Chinese painting he had read about and seen in exhibitions. In 1909 Stevens had been captivated by the Chinese paintings he saw in New York and wrote to his fiancée Elsie about them, compiling a “private exhibition” from their colours:

pale orange, green and crimson, and white,
and gold, and brown;
deep lapis-lazuli and orange, and opaque
green, fawn-color, black, and gold;
lapis blue and vermilion, white, and gold
and green.

In Stevens’ exhibition Chinese handscrolls have been distilled into abstract landscapes of pure colour. This is an approach that would be taken by many Western painters later in the century.

2 comments:

aurelia said...

Gainsborough was noted for his poetic sensibility. Could you relate 'Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream' to Ma Yuan's Watching the Deer by a Pine-Shaded Stream?

graham king said...

Ma Yuan is referred to in T C Lai's "Chinese Paintings" with the following inscription -
The wild birds that brush my sleeves dance by themselves;
The lonely birds that shun my presence are too froghtened to cry.