Hua Yan’s Snow on Mount Tian

December 27th, 2007

A 1755 painting by Hua Yan (sometimes considered one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou), reproduced in Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting.

Snow on Mount Tian

Snow on Mount Tian, 1755, Palace Museum, Beijing. Click image for larger version.

The painting “depicts an itinerant merchant trudging through ice and snow in the northern wilderness on a long, arduous journey. Wearing a fur hat and an overcoat, a sword hanging at his waist, he leads a camel. The heads of both the traveler and the camel are raised to the sky as a wild goose flies overhead. The solitary traveler, the camel, and the wild goose give poignancy to the desolation of the scene. But the bleakness of gray sky, brown camel, and white snow are relieved by the overcoat of bright red. Like many poems of the Tang dynasty that describe scenes outside the Great Wall, the picture creates a lonely yet solemn and stirring mood” (p281, Nie Chongzheng’s analysis).

5 Responses to “Hua Yan’s Snow on Mount Tian”

  1. susan lowell Says:

    What first struck me, with a giggle, was the elongated steep mountains and deep valleys, with snow-softened curves at top and bottom, being echoed in the body of the camel. Even the human, with his winter coverings, has become an elongated hump. Travelers unconsciously harmonizing with their environment.

    The theme of isolation is interesting; even though the man and his camel are together, they are separated by the difference of species, so there is an absence of community. The man has his camel but no other human; the camel has his human, but no other camel.

    For the bird things are different; this is her home and her home condition, soaring alone. The man and the camel are visitors.

    I don’t think the visitors are looking up at the bird; I think she’s behind them, and they may not even see her. She sees them, though, and it’s her business to keep an eye on them. If the visitors don’t make it through this rough home of hers, they will become dinner.

    I think the travelers are looking up at the peaks ahead, the ones we don’t see, the path to be negotiated. There’s something about alert, mindful perseverance here.

    Thanks for this

  2. Greg Pass Says:

    Hi Susan —

    This is one of my favorite paintings.

    In their parallel gazes, I see man and camel “thinking” the same thing. The shared thought cannot be a human, analytical thought, of which the camel is not capable; rather it is, exactly as you say, an “alert mindfulness”: a deeper thought that is simply EXPERIENCING what it sees: the bird, the peaks.

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