Skip to main content Skip to main content

Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Art: Bamboo in the Wind

» Wu Zhen (Chinese, 1280–1354)

Bamboo in the Wind

Bamboo in the Wind
Artist / Origin: Wu Zhen (Chinese, 1280–1354)
Region: East Asia
Date: Yuan Dynasty, 1350
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Ink on paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 8 ft. 2 2/5 in. (250.4 cm.), W: 21 1/3 in. (54.1 cm.)
Location: Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Bamboo has been an important and meaningful subject for painting during many periods in Chinese history.

In addition to its status, along with plum blossoms, orchids, and chrysanthemums, as one of the so-called “Four Gentlemen” representing the four seasons, bamboo’s ability to bend without breaking made it a symbol of strength, courage, and integrity from very early on. Traditionally, it was held that the ability to represent the plant effectively was a marker of extraordinary skill and artistic sophistication.

Although he was not a prominent figure in his lifetime, Wu Zhen is now known as one of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan Dynasty; he is especially renowned for his bamboo ink paintings. In this work, a scroll over eight feet in length, Wu Zhen creates a complex relationship between text and image. The rich variety of brushwork used to create the bamboo leaves is calligraphic. The straight columns of text serve as a counterpoint to the graceful arc of the bamboo stalk, curved by the wind as described in the title. The result is a composition that is both expressive and affecting.

The writing on Bamboo in the Wind not only describes the image, but also situates it in a specific cultural and artistic context. It was common for the textual elements of Yuan scrolls to mention artistic precedents admired by the artist. Here, Wu Zhen identifies eleventh-century artist Su Shi, a celebrated painter of bamboo, as his influence.

Additional Resources

Bamboo in the Wind, F1953.85.” In Collections. Freer and Sackler Galleries Web site.

Barnhart, Richard M., et al. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Clunas, Craig. Art in China (Oxford History of Art). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 and 2009.

Harrist, Robert, and Wen C. Fong. Embodied Image. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999.

Ouyang, Zhongshi, and Wen C. Fong. Chinese Calligraphy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Sullivan, Michael. The Arts of China, 5th ed. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

Watson, William, and Chuimei Ho. The Arts of China: 900–1600. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Series Directory

Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2