The Chinese concept of our fleeting existence in the boundless universe is expressed in Wen Zhengming’s painting and calligraphic rendition of Su Dongbo’s classic poem written in 1082. Three scholars are depicted contemplating life and nature over wine on a moonlight Yangzi River cruise at the foot of the scenic Red Cliffs. Part of the poem reads:

“The clear breeze over the river, or

the bright moon between the hills,

These we may take… free,

And they will never be used up.

These are the endless treasures of

the Creator

Here for you and me to enjoy together.”
Artist Wen Zhengming, Chinese, 1470-1559
  • The First Prose Poem on the Red Cliff
Date 1558
Medium Ink on paper
Dimensions Installed: 97 5/16 × 23 1/8 inches (247.2 × 58.7 cm)
Image: 56 5/16 × 13 3/16 inches (143 × 33.5 cm)
Mount: 94 3/16 × 19 5/8 inches (239.2 × 49.8 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund
Accession Number 76.3
Department Asian Art
Not On View
Signed Signed and dated, by the artist: 1558
Marks Stamp, in red, at upper right of calligraphy: [seal]
Stamp, in red, at lower left of calligraphy: [seal]
Stamps, in red, at right of painting: [three seals]
Stamps, in red, at left of painting: [two seals]
Inscriptions Inscribed, [translated: On a winter's day Zhengming painted and wrote this at the age of 89]
Calligraphy, at top: [a prose poem]
1976-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Edwards, Richard. The Art of Wen Cheng-ming. Exh. cat.,University of Michigan Museum of Art. Ann Arbor, 1976, pp. 209-212.

Bulletin of the DIA 56, no. 3 (1978): p. 179 (ill.).

University Liggett Antiques Show. Exh. cat., University Liggett School. Grosse Pointe Woods, 1979, pp. 75, 77.

"Family Art Game." DIA Advertising Supplement, Detroit News/Detroit Free Press, April 18, 1982, p. 31 (ill.).

The Literati Vision: Sixteenth Century Wu School Painting and Calligraphy. Exh. cat., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and Kimbell Art Museum. Fort Worth and Memphis, 1984, p. 23, no. 6 (ill.).

Barnhart, Richard. “Two Chinese Paintings Acquired for the DIA in 1921 by Ralph H. Booth.” Bulletin of the DIA 92, no. 1/4 (2018): p. 18 (fig. 13).