Art/ Collection/ Art Object

元 周東卿 魚樂圖 卷
The Pleasures of Fishes

Zhou Dongqing (Chinese, active late 13th century)
Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
dated 1291
Handscroll; ink and color on paper
Image: 12 1/8 x 19 ft 4 in. (30.8 cm x 593.7 cm)
Overall with mounting: 12 5/8 x 441 3/4 in. (32.1 x 1122 cm)
Credit Line:
From the Collection of A. W. Bahr, Purchase, Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number:
Not on view
Zhou Dongqing was a friend of Wen Tianxiang (1236–1283), the famous Song loyalist and a fellow native of Jiangsi Province. Zhou's painting was inspired by a passage from the Daoist classic Zhuangzi (ca. fourth century B.C.), in which Zhuangzi, strolling along a river, observes, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!" His companion Huizi remarks, "You're not a fish—how do you know what fish enjoy?" Zhuangzi replies, "You are not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

In the inscription at the end of the painting the artist has written:

Not being fish, how do we know their happiness?
But we may express our feelings in our painting.
In order to probe the subtleties of the ordinary,
We must describe the indescribable.

Painted on paper instead of silk, the work's muted colors and flat patterns of pale inkwash evoke a mood of detachment and withdrawal, which Zhou's inscription reinforces. Born in Linjiang, not far from the Daoist center at Mount Longhu (Dragon Tiger Mountain), Zhou may have been strongly influenced by Daoism.
#7485. The Pleasures of Fishes
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Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (6 columns in semi-cursive script)

Not being fish, how does one know their happiness?
We can only take an idea and make it into a painting.
To probe the subtleties of the ordinary,
We must describe the indescribable.[1]
Painted in the mid-spring of the xinmao year in the Zhiyuan reign era [1291] by Zhou Dongqing of Linjiang.


Artist's seals

Dongqing 東卿
Qiutan 秋潭

Label strip

Unidentified artist, 1 column in standard script, undated (mounted on brocade wrapper):

元周東卿魚樂圖 樵香閣囗囗藏


Wu Rongguang 吳榮光 (1773–1843), 13 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1836; 1 seal:

信國卒於至元十九年壬午[1282],此卷是信國卒後九年所作。所題東卿畫魚詩乃別本,非此卷也。然可見東卿此卷為晚年所作矣。其自題一絕,於濠上更有悟入處。道光丙申九月吳榮光記。 [印]: 拜經老人

Collectors' seals

Qing emperor Qianlong 清帝乾隆 (r. 1736–95)

Wu Yuanhui 伍元蕙 (active mid-19th c.)

Gu Linshi 顧麟士 (1865–1930)

名年 (?)

[1] Trans. Wen C. Fong, Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p. 380.
[ A. W. Bahr , until 1947; sold to MMA]
Kyoto National Museum. "Kachō no bi: kaiga to ishō," October 5, 1982–November 13, 1982.

Art Institute of Chicago. "Taoism and the Arts of China," November 4, 2000–January 7, 2001.

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. "Taoism and the Arts of China," February 21, 2001–May 13, 2001.

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. "Great Waves: Chinese Themes in the Arts of Korea and Japan I," March 1, 2003–September 21, 2003.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," August 28, 2004–February 20, 2005.

Cincinnati Art Museum. "Decoded Messages: The Symbolic Language of Chinese Animal Painting," October 9, 2009–January 3, 2010.

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.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection I," October 31, 2015–October 11, 2016.

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