Shen Zhou, the quintessential Ming scholar-amateur painter, preferred to live in retirement rather than risk the vicissitudes of government service. He devoted much of his later life to an exploration of the brush style of the fourteenth-century recluse-painter Wu Zhen. Shen's painting epitomizes the scholar-amateur tradition of self-expression; by depicting the interior world of the mind and heart, it embodies the essence of Chinese artistic striving. The painting's imagery is about private places: secluded dwellings hidden in the heart of the landscape. Shen's calligraphic brushwork, like handwriting, subtly conveys the writer's mind and personality. Shen's most ambitious landscape composition—the scroll is over fifty-six feet long—it shows the artist systematically reinterpreting Wu Zhen's brush idiom while striving for a new compositional monumentality.
The painting remained incomplete at Shen Zhou's death. In 1546 it was rediscovered by Shen's illustrious pupil Wen Zhengming, who added finishing touches. Wen's inscription recounts: "The composition was already fully realized, but the dotting and washing had not been completed. I, his student, have now finished it. But consider my clumsy effort, how could I add to this 'sable tail'!"
[ Wan-go H. C. Weng , New York, until 1990; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The New Chinese Galleries: An Inaugural Installation," 1997.
Princeton University Art Museum. "Brush, Implication & Consequence-landscape of Ming and Qing [Ch'ing] China (1368–1911)," April 4, 1998–June 14, 1998.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30–January 3, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," August 28, 2004–February 20, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Bridging East and West: The Chinese Diaspora and Lin Yutang," September 15, 2007–February 10, 2008.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632–1717)," September 9, 2008–January 4, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of the Ming Dynasty: China's Age of Brilliance," January 23–September 13, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Yuan Revolution: Art and Dynastic Change," August 21, 2010–January 9, 2011.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats," August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013.
Suzuki Kei 鈴木敬, ed. Chûgoku kaiga sogo zuroku: Daiikan, Amerika-Kanada Hen 中國繪畫總合圖錄: 第一卷 アメリカ - カナダ 編 (Comprehensive illustrated catalog of Chinese paintings: vol. 1 American and Canadian collections) Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1982, pp. 74–75, cat. no. A13-033.
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