Letters to Fang Shiguan, Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) (Chinese, 1626–1705), Album of ten leaves; ink on patterned and plain paper, China

明/清 朱耷(八大山人) 致方士琯書 冊 紙本
Letters to Fang Shiguan

Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) (Chinese, 1626–1705)
Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
datable to ca. 1688–1705
Album of ten leaves; ink on patterned and plain paper
Image (leaf a, right letter): 7 3/4 x 5 7/16 in. (19.7 x 13.8 cm)
Image (leaf a, left letter): 7 1/4 x 4 9/16 in. (18.4 x 11.6 cm)
Image (leaf b, right letter): 7 1/2 x 5 3/16 in. (19.1 x 13.2 cm)
Image (leaf b, left letter): 7 x 4 9/16 in. (17.8 x 11.6 cm)
Image (leaf c, right letter): 7 1/2 x 5 3/16 in. (19.1 x 13.2 cm)
Image (leaf c, left letter): 7 1/4 x 4 9/16 in. (18.4 x 11.6 cm)
Image (leaf d, right letter): 7 1/2 x 5 3/16 in. (19.1 x 13.2 cm)
Image (leaf d, left letter): 7 1/4 x 4 9/16 in. (18.4 x 11.6 cm)
Image (leaf e, right letter): 7 5/8 x 5 3/16 in. (19.4 x 13.2 cm)
Image (leaf e, left letter): 7 1/4 x 4 3/4 in. (18.4 x 12.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., 1982
Accession Number:
Not on view
The tradition of collecting personal letters dates back nearly two millennia in China. It was believed that the intimate space of the letter encouraged a sense of freedom and openness in calligraphers, and the resulting calligraphy was often treasured as a true expression of the artist’s spirit. This album is a collection of letters written by the great painter and calligrapher Zhu Da to his close friend Fang Shiguan (1650–ca. 1711). Fang must have saved them as treasured traces of a friend and gifted artist. At some point, they were mounted together as an album. The letters concern four areas of Zhu’s life: his health; meetings with Fang; exchanges of favors and small gifts; and painting, including both the viewing of other artists’ works and the selling of his own.
Inscription: Artist’s inscriptions and signatures[1]

Leaf A (7 columns in semi-cursive script)

The Buddhist scriptures are what I’ve always wanted. I am abashed by such a gift that feels like coming from heaven. I haven’t even seen your paintings yet. Surely I will be delighted upon seeing them. Bada Shanren bows to Mr. Xicheng [Fang Shiguan] on the 25th of the ninth lunar month.


Leaf AA (7 columns in semi-cursive script):

I have recently painted for the venerable Mr. Shen Ping. Now I will paint these five works in uncharacteristic styles. Despite a sore, my right hand feels no fatigue. Many people appreciate my works, but how should I respond to old Yuan? I hope to meet with you when I have some free time. Bada Shanren bows in reply to his bosom friend Mr. Xi [Fang Shiguan].


Leaf B (6 columns in semi-cursive script):

A guest from Jianning [in Fujian province] gave us two bottles of bean-curd cheese, which tastes better than dry meat. When taken with Longnan, it is particularly delicious. Don’t give it away in exchange for something that seems more valuable, but keep it with a smile. To Mr. Xi and your son. Bada Shanren bows on the 27th day [of the month].


Leaf BB (7 columns in semi-cursive script):

For the past thirty years, salt and vinegar have been just what I don’t have enough. I am deeply grateful for your kind help. How are things in Huangshan? My brush and ink haven’t yet been able to give life to it. Here I return the six leaves to you, plus an additional one, for your approval. To Mr. Lucun [Fang Shiguan]. Bada Shanren bows in reply on the twelfth day of the tenth lunar month.


Leaf C (7 columns in semi-cursive script, 1699?):

I couldn’t make it for the flower-viewing (?) we agreed upon when we last met. And the following day, I was invited by a friend to a musical performance in the Puhui Tang Hall. How about choosing another day? Bada Shanren bows in reply to Mr. Lucun on the 17th of the intercalary month.[2]


Leaf CC (9 columns in semi-cursive script):

I haven’t been able to thank you in person for your kindness. I caught a cold from the strong wind the other day, and could not urinate or defecate. By last night I only managed to excrete a few drops and could not sleep well. I am barely hanging on to life. Could you get me a few prescriptions whose efficacy has been proved? To Mr. Lucun. Bada Shanren bows in multiple illnesses on the sixth of the eighth lunar month.


Leaf D (7 columns in semi-cursive script):

Lately I have been terribly busy, so it is hard to find time to meet. Do you have time to spare now? I miss you very much. When you are free, I would love to see you. All is well, like in those days under [the legendary sage-kings] Yao and Shun. To Mr. Lucun. Bada Shanren bows.


Leaf DD (6 columns in semi-cursive script):

Painting during the spring rain, I have attained a little peace and quiet. Regarding the painting Autumn Woods given by Mr. Shen last winter, in which a man sits chanting in the foreground, could you kindly find it in your spare time and have it brought to me for a viewing? To Mr. Lucun. Bada Shanren bows.


Leaf E (9 columns in semi-cursive script):

My health has gone through a series of ups and downs in the last few days. It’s funny that I felt revitalized after eating melons. Now all is fine, but I’d better nurse myself for a couple of days to recuperate. Have you seen the album leaves on your desk which Mr. Shanyan requested? Old Dan hasn’t seen them either. I painted at the Beilan Temple on the fifth [of this month]. Mr. Zhi expressed his wish to see Siweng’s [Dong Qichang] painting. I hope you would deliver it soon. To Mr. Lucun. Bada Shanren bows in reply on the ninth of the seventh lunar month.


Leaf EE (4 columns in semi-cursive/standard script):

How can I use a double portion! I am abashed to enjoy it and will return your kindness. In reply to Mr. Lucun on the Spring Purification Day [the third of the third lunar month]. Bada Shanren bows.


Artist's seals

Kede shenxian 可得神仙 (Leaf A)
Shide 拾得 (Leaf B)
Bada Shanren 八大山人 (Leaf C)
Bada Shanren 八大山人 (Leaf D)
Bada Shanren 八大山人 (Leaf EE)

Collectors’ seals

Zhao Yuhuang 趙燏黄 (1883–1960)
Yaonong pingsheng zhenshang 藥農平生真賞

Gu Luofu顧洛阜 (John M. Crawford Jr., 1913–1988)
Gu Luofu 顧洛阜
Hanguang Ge 漢光閣
Hanguang Ge Zhu Gu Luofu jiancang Zhongguo gudai shuhua zhi zhang 漢光閣主顧洛阜鋻藏中國古代書畫之章

Zhiyu Zhai 智玉齋

[1] Translations from Department records.
[2] The intercalary month may be the seventh lunar month of 1699, which makes the date of this letter September 10, 1699.
[ Jean-Pierre Dubosc French, by 1982]; John M. Crawford Jr. American, (New York, until 1982)
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. "The Work of Zhu Da," August 22, 1990–October 28, 1990.

New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery. "The Work of Zhu Da," January 18, 1991–March 24, 1991.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection," September 15, 2000–January 7, 2001.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Art of the Chinese Album," September 6, 2014–March 29, 2015.