I came across a sentence while reading which was:

Not a trace of Wu Daozi's brush was left - and the artist was never seen again in this world.

I don't think it here means an act or instance of brushing.


There's two figures of speech evidenced in this quotation, and they are interacting with one another in a way that might be confusing.

The first is the relatively common "not a trace", meaning that there is no sign of something. It has vanished, disappeared, with no clue to where it is and often with no sign it ever existed.

The other is figuratively referring to an artists work. There are two possible figurative expressions that might be intended here. One is to refer to a painter's work, particularly the distinctive elements of it, as their 'brush'. One might say,

"Of course this painting is by Joe Bloggs; I'd recognise his brush anywhere."

This is slightly technical while also being very informal. However, it refers to the visible signs of the painter's technique with a brush.

There's also the fact that the results of painting can be referred to as the "trace of a brush", or the "trace of X's brush". This is also used to refer to the same signs of an individual painter as just brush, and it is possible that that use of brush evolved from "trace of ... brush".

(It is also used by artists to refer to the feel of using a particular brush. It's quite a flexible expression).

A particularly impressive use of certain techniques might lead to the praise that the painting shows "no trace of the brush", meaning that the actual brush-strokes are not visible, at least to the naked eye.

So, in this case, the writer might be using both expressions together, potentially actually deliberately playing on the overlap between them - both using the word trace.

  • +1 Much more informative than my perfunctory answer! ... But I doubt that the "invisibility" of brushstrokes would be accounted a virtue in classical Chinese painting or calligraphy. Feb 23 '19 at 14:22
  • @StoneyB: Indeed, and even in the west it depends on the school. However, the schools that would like invisibility of brushstrokes are the ones that teach the techniques that lead to it ;)
    – SamBC
    Feb 23 '19 at 14:28
  • Recalling the one-time fad for pointilism, wasn't part of the point of it (sorry! :) that the viewer shouldn't be consciously aware of the dots? Which we now try to make as small as possible with out "dot matrix" printing and video display technologies, so ideally no-one can see them. Dec 18 '19 at 15:59

In its context this sentence is preceded by

.. the painting had vanished from the wall. Not a trace ...

I think it's fairly clear that what the author means by trace is the marks left by Wu Daozi's brush, the instrument with which he painted.

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