This album plays on the theme of reality versus illusion. The moon is reflected in a basin of water, a flower is next to its image in a mirror, and a butterfly is attracted to chrysanthemums painted on a silk fan. Chen emphasized the multiple levels of his artifice on this album leaf by incorporating his signature within the composition of the fan painting and by screening one wing of the butterfly with the fan, forcing us to view the insect through the painting as well as through the medium of painting. Other artful manipulations are represented by a miniature potted garden, or penzai (bonsai, in Japanese), which shows how man can transform nature, and by a twig with worm-eaten leaves, which underscores how nature constantly transforms itself.
There is no precedent for these symbolic still-life subjects in scholar painting. Instead, these highly sophisticated images, which relate to the ornamental designs found on deluxe crafts of the time, including molded ink cakes, printed stationery, and the carved decoration of Yixing ceramics, reflect Chen Hongshou's early involvement in creating woodblock illustrations for novels and dramas.
Unidentified artist, 1 column in standard script, undated; 2 illegible seals:
Lianzi [Chen Hongshou] Emulating Ancient masters. In the collection of the Zipian Lu Studio.
Weng Tonghe 翁同龢 (1830–1904), 2 columns in large clerical script followed by 9 columns in standard script [on double album leaves], undated:
Chen Zhanghou’s [Hongshou] album in the manners of earlier masters
Zhanghou [Chen Hongshou] died in the ninth year of the Shunzhi reign – the renchen year . This album is dated to the jiwei year, when the master was long dead. But if [the date] refers to the jiwei year of the Wanli reign era of the former Ming dynasty , then he was barely twenty at the time. How could he have acquired such mature brushwork? I suspect that the date is a mistake for the jichou year . I greatly admire these paintings, so I have recorded this. Pingsheng [Weng Tonghe]
Artist: Chen Hongshou (Chinese, 1599–1652)Date: first half of the 17th centuryMedium: Twelve folding fans mounted as album leaves; ink and color on gold paperAccession: 1989.364a–lOn view in:Not on view