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元 周東卿 漁樂圖 卷
The Pleasures of Fishes

Artist:
Zhou Dongqing (Chinese, active late 13th century)
Period:
Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
Date:
dated 1291
Culture:
China
Medium:
Handscroll; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:
Image: 12 1/8 x 19 ft 4 in. (30.8 cm x 593.7 cm) Overall with mounting: 12 5/8 x 441 3/4 in. (32.1 x 1122 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
From the Collection of A. W. Bahr, Purchase, Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number:
47.18.10
Not on view
Zhou Dongqing was a friend of Wen Tianxiang (1236–1283), the famous Song loyalist and a fellow native of Jiangsi Province. Zhou's painting was inspired by a passage from the Daoist classic Zhuangzi (ca. fourth century b.c.), in which Zhuangzi, strolling along a river, observes, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!" His companion Huizi remarks, "You're not a fish-how do you know what fish enjoy?" Zhuangzi replies, "You are not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

In the inscription at the end of the painting the artist has written:

Not being fish, how do we know their happiness?
But we may express our feelings in our painting.
In order to probe the subtleties of the ordinary,
We must describe the indescribable.

Painted on paper instead of silk, the work's muted colors and flat patterns of pale inkwash evoke a mood of detachment and withdrawal, which Zhou's inscription reinforces. Born in Linjiang, not far from the Daoist center at Mount Longhu (Dragon Tiger Mountain), Zhou may have been strongly influenced by Daoism.
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (6 columns in semi-cursive script)

Not being fish, how does one know their happiness?
We can only take an idea and make it into a painting.
To probe the subtleties of the ordinary,
We must describe the indescribable.[1]
Painted in the mid-spring of the xinmao year in the Zhiyuan reign era [1291] by Zhou Dongqing of Linjiang.

非魚豈知樂,寓意寫成圖。
欲探中庸奧,分明有象無。
至元辛卯春仲臨江周東卿作。

Artist's seals

Dongqing 東卿
Qiutan 秋潭

Label strip

Unidentified artist, 1 column in standard script, undated (mounted on brocade wrapper):

元周東卿魚樂圖 樵香閣囗囗藏

Colophon

Wu Rongguang 吳榮光 (1773–1843), 13 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1836; 1 seal:

文信圖[國誤書圖]題周東卿畫魚詩云:“觀君瀟[灑字點去]湘圖,起我懷古心。”周在宋末即以畫名,此卷作於至元辛卯[1291],乃世祖廿八年,其人至元初尚在也。濠上誤書懷古。
信國卒於至元十九年壬午[1282],此卷是信國卒後九年所作。所題東卿畫魚詩乃別本,非此卷也。然可見東卿此卷為晚年所作矣。其自題一絕,於濠上更有悟入處。道光丙申九月吳榮光記。 [印]: 拜經老人

Collectors' seals

Qing emperor Qianlong 清帝乾隆 (r. 1736–95)
乾隆鋻賞
三希堂精鋻璽
宜子孫

Wu Yuanhui 伍元蕙 (active mid-19th c.)
南海伍氏南雪齋祕笈印
儷荃審定
南海伍元蕙寳玩
伍氏迂庵主人
伍元蕙字良謀又字儷荃評書讀畫印
伍氏澄觀閣書畫之印
伍元蕙儷荃甫評書讀畫之印

Gu Linshi 顧麟士 (1865–1930)
麟士曾藏識者寳之
麟士心賞

Unidentified
齡孫祕笈
婺源俞氏守璞齋審定
名年 (?)

[1] Trans. Wen C. Fong, Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p. 380.
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