The Garden of the Inept Administrator (Zhuozheng Yuan) was built on the site of an ancient temple in Suzhou by the censor Wang Xianchen (act. ca. 1500–1535). In 1527, after an unhappy stay in Beijing, the artist Wen Zhengming returned to Suzhou, where he was given a studio in the garden. In an album of 1535, Wen painted thirty-one views of the site, each accompanied by a poem and a descriptive note. Sixteen years later, at the age of eighty-one, he painted this second album of eight views. The garden still exists in Suzhou, but centuries of renovations make it difficult to identify Wen's scenes.
In these works Wen achieved the ideal integration of the three separate arts of poetry, calligraphy, and painting (the so-called three perfections). With characteristic restraint, he chose to use only ink, but, aided by the poems, the quiet and exquisite images easily evoke that magical, autumnal moment in the garden.
The Bank of Many Fragrances
Various kinds of flowers are planted next to the thatched hall, Purple luxuriance and red beauty in random array; The spring radiance and brilliance embroiders them with a thousand artifices, In the good air and scented mist a hundred fragrances mix. I love the smells that fill my bosom and sleeves, I do not let the wind and dew wet my clothes, My thoughts fly high beyond the flowery world. Quietly, I watch the bees dance up and down.
The Bamboo Bank
Bamboos are planted around the low mound Forming a bank of bamboo around the edge. In full summer it already seems to be autumn, So deep is the wood, one cannot tell when it is noon. In its midst is one who has abandoned the world, Enjoying himself with a lute and a goblet. When a wind stirs, he too wakes from drunkenness To sit and listen to the rain on the bamboo leaves.
The Canglang Pavilion
Once a small pavilion was built by Canglang pond,* The green water still surrounds its empty railings; Here there are always wind and moon to offer to the fisherman, And boys, too, singing “Wash your cap strings!” Rivers and lakes fill the whole land, enough for my enjoyment, For a hundred years the fish and birds have forgotten themselves; Shunjing [Su Zimei, 1008–1048] is dead, Du Ling [Du Fu, 712–770] far away— As a paragon of hermits who will compete with me?
*Confucius was said to have admired a song sung by a small boy: “When Canglang’s waters are clear, I wash my cap strings; When Canglang’s waters are muddy, I wash my feet.” Clear and muddy waters refer to good and bad political and social circumstances.
The Banana Balustrade
The new banana is more than ten feet tall; After the rain it is clean as though washed. It does not dislike the high white wall, It elegantly matches the curved red balustrade. Cool autumn sounds come to my pillow, Green morning colors are seen through the windows. Let no one take to the shears heedlessly, Leave it until its shade reaches my house.
The Fishing Stone
The white stone is clean and dustless; Flat, it overhangs the stream of wild water. I sit and watch the line rolling, I take quiet pleasure in the jadelike turning [of the water]. I enjoy rivers and lakes, far off, I forget cares, and gulls and egrets become tame friends. You must know that he who stretches his line, Is not one who desires [to catch] fish.
The Apple Garden
Here in summer a cool shade spreads over ten mu [of land] This is when the fruits begin to ripen in the long orchard; At the place where the precious baskets are divided and given away, In a small window, I have got a rubbing of Youjun’s [Wang Xizhi’s] calligraphy.
The Locust Tree Pavilion
Below the pavilion a tall locust tree falls over the wall, Mist on the cold leaves wets my clothes. The scattered flowers are sparse but their scent travels far, The cool shade falls all around, of lasting benefit to the world. During the literary examinations of the eighth moon, past achievements are recalled, When the honors of the three ministers are entrusted to the candidates. Since I became old I have not indulged in such dreams, Alone I move my bed to lie in the cool of evening.
The Jade Spring
Once I ladled water from the Fragrant Hills Cool as a stream of jade* Would you know that as far as Yao [seventh star of the Big Dipper] is from the Milky Way There is another clear jade spring? Preparing a rope, I draw water with the clouds, In an earthen jar, I boil it with moonlight. What need of Lu Hongjian [Lu Yu (d. 804), a famous tea master]? At the first sip you will yourself decide.
*The Jade Spring is a famous water source located in the Fragrant Hills near Beijing.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
leaf i (colophon 1)
leaf ii (colophon 2)
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
明 文徵明 拙政園圖詩 冊
Title:Garden of the Inept Administrator
Artist:Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559)
Period:Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Medium:Album of eight leaves; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 10 3/8 × 10 3/4 in. (26.4 × 27.3 cm) Image with mounting: 15 3/8 × 16 3/4 in. (39.1 × 42.5 cm) Double leaf unfolded: 15 3/8 × 33 1/2 in. (39.1 × 85.1 cm) Mat: 18 5/16 × 34 in. (46.5 × 86.4 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Douglas Dillon, 1979
Inscription: Artist's inscriptions and signatures
Leaf AA (10 columns in semi-cursive script):
Various kinds of flowers are planted next to the thatched hall, Purple luxuriance and red beauty in random array. The spring radiance and brilliance embroiders them with a thousand artifices; In the fine air and scented mist a hundred fragrances mix. I love the smells that fill my bosom and sleeves; I do not let the wind and dew wet my clothes. My thoughts fly high beyond the flowery world. Quietly, I watch the bees dance up and down. The Bank of Many Fragrances is in front of the Rustic Hall. It is planted with a mixture of various kinds of peonies, begonias, wisteria, and other flowers. Meng Zongxian (1163 jinshi degree) said in a poem, “Next to your cottage is a bank of many fragrances.” Zhengming
Once a small pavilion was built by the Canglang Pond; The green water still surrounds its empty railings. The wind and moon are always here to delight the fishermen, And boys, too, singing “Wash your cap strings!” Rivers and lakes fill the whole land, enough for my enjoyment; For a hundred years the fish and birds have forgotten themselves. [Su] Shunqin (1008–1048) is dead, Du Ling [Du Fu, 712–770] far away— As paragons of hermits, who can rival them? The garden has several mu of water reservoirs, like Su Zimei’s [Su Shunqin] Canglang Pond [in Suzhou]. So a pavilion was built among them, and called the Little Canglang. Formerly Zimei came from the capital, Bian [modern Kaifeng, Henan Province], to Suzhou. You also returned from the northern capital. The name is taken from your comparable journeys. Zhengming
Bamboos planted around the low mound have grown into a bank circling it. At the height of the summer, I am startled by autumn’s approach. So deep is the wood, one cannot tell when it is noon. In its midst is one who has abandoned the world, Enjoying himself with a zither and wine. When a wind stirs, he awakes from inebriation and sits listening to the rain tapping the bamboo leaves. The Bamboo Bank is located south of the Peach-blossom Rill and north of the Pavilion of Resting in Rain. It is planted all around with bamboos and is especially quiet and secluded. Zhengming
Leaf DD (9 columns in semi-cursive script): The new banana is over ten feet tall; After the rain it is clean as though washed. It does not mind the height of the white wall, but elegantly matches the zigzag red balustrade. Autumn sounds enter my pillow and feel cool; Morning light shines green on the lattice window. Let no one take to the shears heedlessly; Leave it until its shade reaches my house. The Banana Balustrade is to the left of the Pavilion of Resting in Rain. Later, palms were planted to make a suitable shade for the summer months. Zhengming
The white stone is clean and dustless, Stretching along a stream of wild water. I sit and watch the line rolling, Taking quiet pleasure in the jadelike ripples. I enjoy rivers and lakes, away from the world; Without scheming, I befriend gulls and egrets. You must know that he who casts the fishing line, Is not someone who desires fish. The Fishing Stone is below the Pavilion of Far-reaching Thoughts. At the time of spring brightness, the shade of the willows and the falling flowers make one sit so absorbed as to forget to return. Zhengming
Here in summer a cool shade spreads over ten mu [of land]. It is time when the fruits begin to ripen on the tall apple trees. Where they are lovingly put into bamboo baskets and given away, I peruse a rubbing of Youjun’s [Wang Xizhi, ca. 303-ca. 361] calligraphy by a small window. The Garden of Attracting Birds consists of several hundred apple trees [literally “wood-birds”] planted on the south and north sides of the Canglang Pond. That’s how [the name came about]. Zhengming
Once I ladled water from a spring in the Fragrant Hills, which is cool like a pond of jade. Would you know that as far as Yao is from the Milky Way, There is another clear jade spring? With a long rope, I draw water together with the clouds; In an earthen jar, I boil it with moon inside. What need of Lu Hongjian [Lu Yu, died 804, a famous tea master]? At the first sip you yourself can tell. At Xiangshan in the capital there is a Jade Spring, where the Master used to ladle the water and relish its subtle sweetness. He therefore called himself Yuquan Shanren [Hermit of the Jade Spring]. When he struck a spring in the southeast corner of the garden and found its water no less sweet and suitable for tea than that of the Jade Spring, he adopted the name to show that he would not forget. Zhengming
Near the pavilion tall locust trees hang over the wall; Mist around the cool green wets my clothes. Sparse flowers are wilting, but their fragrance will endure. The cool shade falls all around, of lasting benefit to the world. During the civil service examinations in the eighth month, the past is recalled; Glorious accomplishment in officialdom is entrusted to the young candidates. Since I became old, I have no longer had such dreams; Alone I move my bed to recline in the cool of the evening. The Locust Tree Enclosure. Written by Zhengming on the twentieth day of the ninth month in the autumn of the xinhai year [October 19, 1551].
Yongxing 永瑆 (1752–1823), 7 columns in semi-cursive script, datable to 1822; 1 seal:
Hengshan’s [Wen Zhengming] poems, at the time when the Seven Masters were flourishing, along with those of Gui Zimu (1563-1606) transcended the dusty world. In painting he followed Wuxing’s [Zhao Mengfu, 1254-1322] style. In calligraphy also, though he was later, he does not yield much to the best of the earlier Ming period. This album, though a personal and lesser work, is of great interest for people to look into. Recorded by Prince Cheng on the twentieth-first day of the twelfth month in the Daoguang reign era [January 13, 1822] at the age of seventy. [Seal]: Yijin Zhai zhu
Naitō Torajirō 内籐虎次郎 (Japanese, 1866–1934), 10 columns in standard script, dated 1930; 1 seal:
This album has paintings by the Editorial Assistant Hengshan of the complete views of the gardens and ponds of one surnamed Wu. The garden must originally have been well-known, but is so no longer now. The brushwork of the painting is marvelous; the ink is old and pale, similar to that of Ziang [Zhao Mengfu] and Zhongmu [Zhao Yong, ca. 1289-ca. 1362], father and son. Thus people enjoy looking at it and cannot bear to put it down, and it really is one of the most beautiful works among Hengshan’s paintings. For every leaf there is inscribed a poem, and at the end are the characters xinhai, namely the thirtieth year of the Jiajing reign era , when Hengshan was 82 sui. His calligraphy is slightly inferior to the painting. It has been in the collections of An Lucun [An Qi, 1683-after 1744] and the two nobles Yijin [Yongxing] and Xijin [Yixin, 1833-1898]. And it has a colophon by Prince Cheng. It should be treasured. In August of the fifth year in the Showa reign era , Naito Tora. [Seal]: Baoma An
Unidentified (Leaf HH): Yunzhen Ge tushu ji 缊真閣圖書記 Lianxue 鍊雪 Daming Chengshi Weian shangjian tushu 大名成氏畏庵賞鑑圖書
 Translations based on Roderick Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity: Chinese Paintings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Morse. Exh. cat. Princeton, NJ: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1969, no. 3, pp. 66-69.  The Jade Spring is a famous water source located in the Fragrant Hills near Beijing.  Yao is the seventh star of the Big Dipper.  Translations based on Roderick Whitfield, In Pursuit of Antiquity, p. 69.
Mr. and Mrs. Earl Morse , New York (by 1969–76; sold to Dillon);; Douglas Dillon American, New York (1976–79, donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Paintings of the 15th–18th Century from the Collection of Earl Morse," November 19, 1970–January 4, 1971.
Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Museum of Art. "The Art of Wen Zhengming, 1470–1559," January 25, 1976–February 29, 1976.
New York. Asia House Gallery. "The Art of Wen Zhengming, 1470–1559," April 7, 1976–June 7, 1976.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Peach Blossom Spring," November 21, 1983–June 3, 1984.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The New Chinese Galleries: An Inaugural Installation," 1997.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Millennium of Chinese Painting: Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," September 8, 2001–January 13, 2002.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Douglas Dillon Legacy: Chinese Painting for the Metropolitan Museum," March 12–August 8, 2004.
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. "Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats," August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013.
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700–1900," October 26, 2013–January 19, 2014.
Zurich. Museum Rietberg. "Gardens of the World," May 13, 2016–October 9, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Traditions of China," August 26, 2017–January 6, 2019.
Murck, Alfreda, and Wen C. Fong. A Chinese Garden Court: The Astor Court at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980, p. 23, fig. 23.
Morris, Edwin T. The Gardens of China: History, Art and Meanings. New York: Scribner, 1983, p. 7.
Clunas, Craig. Elegant debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming, 1470–1559. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004, p. 47, fig. 15.
Flacks, Marcus. Custodians of the Scholar's Way: Chinese Scholars' Objects in Precious Woods. London: Sylph Editions, 2014, p. 60.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.