This album contains a rare self-portrait that reflects Chen Hongshou's mood after enduring a number of personal tragedies. Four years earlier, in 1623, Chen's first wife died and he failed the provincial examinations; he would try and fail again in 1638. Depicting himself in the conventional guise of the dejected scholar who seeks solace in drink, Chen makes no mention of these misfortunes in his accompanying inscription; instead, he writes of the thousands of miles of territory recently lost to Manchu encroachments in the northeast and of his fears that roving outlaw bands might steal his crops.
But there is still time to get drunk, he writes, and he invites his friend Ping, to whom the painting is dedicated, to join him.
Inscription: Artists’ inscriptions and signatures
Leaf A (5 columns in semi-cursive script):
Again we have lost several thousand li of [national] territory. Shall we ever talk about this yet again? I feel lucky to have some land to farm as an outsider, but worry that armed rebels who are rising up in the Wu and Yue regions [modern Jiangsu and Zhejiang] will rob my granary. In the meanwhile there is still time to drink to our hearts’ content, and I will certainly go visit you. The Zhu brothers have all asked me to send their regards. Please remember me to the venerable Zong [Zhang Dai, 1597–1679] and Yan [Zhang Yanke, active mid-17th c.]. To my learned brotherly friend Ping [Zhang Pingzi, active mid-17th c.]. Your junior, Hongshou.
Leaf C (3 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1627):
Tall wutong and old osmanthus trees shade the streets from the sky. Brewing tea with water saved from early summer rain delights me. [A painting] was drawn for a visitor to hang on his wall. In flying snow and cold moonlight someone sits in an empty studio.
On a pure summer day in the dingmao year, Hongshou.
高梧老桂暗天街，梅水烹茶有好懷。 寫與來君懸壁去，雪飛月冷坐空齋。 丁卯清夏，洪綬
Leaf D (1 column in semi-cursive script):
A branch of plum blossoms painted by Hongshou in celebration.
Leaf K (2 columns in semi-cursive script):
Portrait of the seventh arhat after Guanxiu [active ca. 940], presented for your advice. Xiaolian, Wuyan [Chen Zi].
Chen Hongshou 陳洪綬 Hongshou 洪綬 [Leaf A, B, C] Hongshou 洪綬 [Leaf D] Chen Zi 陳字 Xiaolian 小蓮 [Leaf K]
Unidentified artist, 1 column in semi-cursive script, undated (mounted on brocade cover): 陳老蓮畫冊