Wang Xun (350-401), Jin dynasty (265-420)
Undated, handscroll, ink on paper, 25.1 × 17.2 cm
This set of letters by Wang Xun is the only authentic signed work from the Jin dynasty. Written in an easy and free style, it is a letter to Boyuan. Wang Xun excelled at running-cursive script. In the Southern Song imperial catalogue The Calligraphy Catalogue of the Xuanhe Period (1119-1125) (Xuanhe shupu), he was honored as “the great master of cursive script”. At the beginning of the handscroll, the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) wrote “The glory and intellect east of the River” (Jiang zuo feng hua), and affixed his seal “Qianlong imperially inscribed” (Qianlong yu bi). Following are three inscriptions by the Emperor.
After the letter, Dong Qichang (1555-1636), the Ming painting and calligraphic master, wrote in praise of the calligraphic work. After that, the Qianlong Emperor’s drawing of rocks and dry branches complements the calligraphy and Dong’s inscription. Two half seals, which are too blurred to identify, were affixed at each side of the letter.
Qing imperial seals on the scroll read: “The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat” (Shiqu baoji), “Qianlong Authenticated” (Qianlong jianshang), “Qianlong Personally Appreciated” (Qianlong yulan zhibao), “Precise Authentication Seal of the Room of Three Rarities” (Sanxitang jingjianxi), “For the Benefit of Later Generations” (Yi zisun), and “Authentication and Collection Seal of the Hall of Mental Cultivation” (Yangxindian jiancangbao).
Ever since its inclusion in the imperial inner court in 1746, Letter to Boyuan was placed together with Timely Clearing after Happy Snow (Kuaixue shiqing tie) by Wang Xizhi (c. 303-361) and Mid-autumn Manuscript (Zhongqiu tie) by Wang Xianzhi (Wang Xizhi’s seventh son, 344-386) in the Room of Three Rarities (Sanxi tang), a side room on the far west of the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian) in the imperial palace. (The Sanxitang on the west side of the Palace Museum is open daily.)
In 1747, the three rarities, with another 134 selected calligraphic masterpieces executed in the Wei, Jin, Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties (dated from late fourth century to seventeenthth century), were engraved into rock and collectively titled The Calligraphic Masterpieces of the Room of Three Rarities (Sanxi tang fatie). Then the emperor commissioned the construction of the Pavilion of Reviewing the Past (Yuegu lou) in the nearby Beihai garden. These carved stones were set into the interior walls of the Pavilion, while the rubbings taken from them were widely disseminated as examples for practicing calligraphy. The emperor kept the original three calligraphic works in the Room of Three Rarities next to his living quarters.
Before 1924 when the last emperor was expelled from the imperial palace, Letter to Boyuan and Mid Autumn Manuscript were moved to the Palace of Longevity and Health (Shoukang gong), the residence of the imperial honored consort Jingyi (literally Respect and Virtue), dowager of the Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862-1874). After 1924, the dowager Jingyi smuggled these two works out of the palace and sold them. After that, there was no news of their whereabouts until they appeared in Hong Kong in 1951. Letter to Boyuan and Mid-autumn Manuscript were mortgaged to a foreign bank in Hong Kong and would have been sold abroad but for the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai, who authorized their purchase. Within the same year, the government instructed the Palace Museum to keep these two calligraphic masterpieces.
Timely Clearing after the Happy Snow (Kuaixue shiqing tie) was among the artifacts that were carried to the south after the Japanese invaded the northeastern part of China in the early 1930s. It was shipped to Taiwan and is kept in the National Palace Museum in Taibei.
Letter to Boyuan (Boyuan tie) has been included in calligraphic catalogues such as The Calligraphy Catalogue of the Xuanhe Period (1119-1125)(Xuanhe shupu), Essays in the Studio of Drawing Zen (Huachanshi suibi), Lifetime Spectacle (Pingsheng zhuangguan), Records of Painting and Calligraphy(Shuhua ji), Qing imperial catalogue The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat: the First Edition (Shiqu baoji chubian), A Collective Study on Calligraphy and Painting in Shigu Studio (Shigutang shuhua huikao), A Collective Review of Ink Works (Moyuan huiguan), General Records of Chinese Traditional Calligraphy and Painting (Gu shuhua guoyan yaolu).
“Letter to Boyuan in Running Script.” The Palace Museum, n.d. Web. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dpm.org.cn%2Fshtml%2F660%2F%40%2F100477.html>.