Washing the White Elephant

Chen Zi Chinese

Not on view

Chen Zi bore both the gift and the burden of being trained by his father Chen Hongshou, one of the most original figure painters ever to wield a brush. The junior Chen was taught to work in an identifiable style with a known market, but the shadow of his father’s accomplishment enveloped him, stifling further growth. This work shows Chen Zi’s competence in producing the exaggerated, caricatured figures for which his father was known, but it also reveals a stiffness that set in through the years of pursuing his father’s legacy. The subject is a play on words with Buddhist significance: “to wash the elephant” (saoxiang) is a homophone for “sweeping away attachments,” a key goal of Buddhist practice.

Washing the White Elephant, Chen Zi (Chinese, 1634–1711), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

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