This exquisite album, done when Chen Hongshou was between twenty and twenty-four, exhibits a broad range of subject matter and an extraordinarily fastidious brush style that attest to his reputation as a youthful prodigy. Not long after the album was completed, the noted connoisseur and artist Chen Jiru added his critical comments opposite several of the leaves in the album, a further confirmation of Chen Hongshou's recognition among his contemporaries.
In the first leaf, the bleak scene of an untended garden presents a powerful image of the decay infecting late Ming society just twenty–five years before the dynasty was toppled by the Manchus. In his accompanying inscription Chen asks, "Does anybody notice?" In subsequent leaves, Chen's evocations of Li Gonglin's (ca. 1041–1106) monochrome drawing (baimiao) figural style, Ni Zan's (1306–1374) dry trees, Wang Meng's (ca. 1308–1385) cloudlike mountains, and Qian Xuan's (ca. 1235–before 1307) archaic "blue-and-green" landscapes reveal his command of past idioms and his affinity for earlier scholar-recluse artists, while a depiction of the Solitary Elegant Peak in Guilin reveals Chen's early interest in the fantastic landscapes of the eccentric professional artist Wu Bin (ca. 1583–1626).
Inscription: Artist’s inscription, colophons, and signatures
Leaf A (1 column in standard script, dated 1618)
In the summer of the wuwu year , Hongshou.
Leaf AA (3 columns in semi-cursive script)
Weatherbeaten pines, old trees, broken banana leaves; sparse bamboo, bony rocks, wilting grass—what a sight! Do people know it? Do people know it? Hongshou
Leaf B (1 column in standard script, dated 1619)
In the spring of the jiwei year , Hongshou.
Leaf CC (4 columns in semi-cursive script)
Since I received power from the Buddha, I can create paintings and calligraphies, which I use to help the poor and to satisfy those who love my work. Thus, I enjoy making Buddhist images to requite the Buddha. Yet, how would the Buddha accept any requital! Please put in a good word for me. Hongshou
Leaf D (1 column in standard script, dated 1619)
In the spring of the jiwei year , Hongshou.
Leaf DD (2 columns in semi-cursive script)
Recently I have been doing things like this in my prose writing as well. People know about my pure and noble character, but not the deep and profound side of me. Hongshou
Leaf E (1 column in standard script, dated 1619)
In the autumn of the jiwei year , Hongshou.
Leaf EE (2 columns in semi-cursive script)
In this painting, I have reached the utmost effects of brushwork, style, and thought. As for the wonder of ink, it lies in the lack of ink. Those who understand painting will agree. Zhanghou
Leaf F (1 column in standard script, dated 1620)
In the autumn of the gengshen year , Hongshou.
Leaf G (1 column in standard script, dated 1621)
In the spring of the xinyou year , Hongshou.
Leaf I (2 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1621)
Brownish yellow colors weigh down autumn’s charm. The lady furrows her lovely brows. As if in a blink, to the soldiers at the western frontier Hundreds of vehicles with their uniforms have passed. Hongshou, in the summer of the xinyou year .
流黃壓秋韻， 阿姊撮顰蛾。 彈指交河士， 征衣百輛過。 洪綬，時辛酉夏。
Leaf JJ (2 columns in semi-cursive script)
It would be delightful just to encounter this scenery, not to mention I have painted it. Hongshou
Leaf K (on painting: 1 column in standard and semi-cursive scripts, dated 1622)
In the summer of the renxu year , Hongshou.
Leaf KK (3 columns in semi-cursive script)
I once followed Li Changheng [Li Liufang, 1575-1629] on an excursion to the mountain peak. Gazing at a jasmine flower, Changheng said: “If I can have Zhanghou [Chen Hongshou] transmit its spirit and let me view [his painting] with respect, it will be such a delight.” Changheng, Changheng, have you ever seen this painting? Hongshou
Leaf BB: 1 column in semi-cursive script, undated; 1 seal:
Not until you have seen Longmian's [Li Gonglin, ca. 1041–1106] Nine Songs will you know Zhanghou's [Chen Hongshou] model. [Seal]: Jiru
見龍眠 《九歌》 始知章侯畫學。 [印]： 繼儒
Leaf FF: 2 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals:
This is the Solitary Elegant Peak in Prince Jingjiang’s Palace in Western Yue [Gueilin]. When did it fly here? [Seals]: Meigong, Jiru
西粵靖江藩府中獨秀峰何日飛來到此。 眉公 [印]： 眉公、繼儒
Leaf GG: 4 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals:
[It is said that] Zhang Yuanwai [Zhang Zao, active late 8th c.] once held two brushes and used them simultaneously, one for drawing living branches, and the other for dry ones. Their spirit transcends mist and clouds; their momentum recalls that of a storm. This painting by Zhanghou compares closely with it. It employs the method of Tang dynasty masters. [Zhang] Zao said, “Study nature as external discipline; find the source inwardly in your heart.” How true it is! [Seals]: Meigong, Jiru
Leaf HH: 2 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals:
[Here] Zhanghou uses the ideas of Hongguzi [Jing Hao, active ca. 870–ca. 930] as well, not merely those of Huanghe Shanqiao [Wang Meng, ca. 1308–1385]. [Seals]: Meigong, Jiru
章侯同參洪谷子，非從黃鶴山樵入也。 [印]： 眉公、繼儒
Leaf II: 3 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals:
Li Longmian did a painting titled Preparing Silk, in which the figures were all plump and naïve-looking, but in this one alone [the woman] appears gaunt. In the bright moonlight, she seems deep in sorrow. How pitiful she looks! [Seals]: Meigong, Jiru
Leaf LL: 5 columns in semi-cursive script, datable to 1622–1623; 1 seal:
Chao Buzhi [1051–1110] said: “[In painting] follow Hou Yu [active 10th c.] for Buddhist figures, follow Wu Daoxuan [Wu Daozi, active ca. 710–60] for clouds and vapors, follow Guan Tong [active 907–23] for celestial guardians, pines, and rocks, follow Guo Zhongshu [d. 977] for grasses and trees, follow Li Cheng [919–967] for reclining boughs and dangling vines, follow Xu Daoning [ca. 970–ca. 1052] for tumbling cliffs and emaciated trees, and follow Yi Yuanji [d. ca. 1064] and Cui Bai [active ca. 1060–85] for flowers, birds, fish, and insects.” Now Zhanghou is just twenty-five sui, but has acquired all those merits. In his previous incarnations, he must have been a painter as well a poet. Meigong [Seals]: Jiru