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Pine and Hibiscus

Shen Zhou

Artwork Details

Pine and Hibiscus
Shen Zhou
handscroll, ink and color on paper
9 5/16 x 32 5/16 in. (23.6 x 82 cm)
Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund


Copies and Invention in East Asia (August 17, 2019 - January 5, 2020)
Shen Zhou is regarded as one of the greatest artists in Chinese history because of his literary erudition and expressive brushwork. Here he uses the “boneless” style—a technique in which a wet brush is used to create shapes with washes instead of outlines—to depict the hibiscus flower and leaves. He also uses the outline technique to portray the pine tree, adding texture strokes to create volume and give it substance. Whereas the hibiscus blossoms appear to have a soft glow and an ephemeral beauty, the pine tree looks clear and sharp.

Gallery Rotations Spring/Summer 2012
Shen Zhou
China, 1427–1509
Pine and Hibiscus
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Hand scroll, ink, and color on paper
Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund, 1961/1.173
Shen Zhou, the great fifteenth-century master, painted this scroll
of pine and hibiscus as an expression of sympathy for Tang Xiamin, a scholar who failed eight times to pass the arduous civil service examination required to become an elite government official. Blooming in late autumn, the hibiscus, beautifully painted in “boneless” colored wash, represents the elusive late success for which this scholar longed, while the cold-hardy evergreen pine,
in black linear brushwork, symbolizes perseverance and longevity.
Attached to the painting are thirteen colophons Tang Xiamin collected through his extensive circle of associations before Shen Zhou created this painting. Focusing on the hardships and difficulties of seeking official position, these inscriptions are expressions of supportive friendship and yet likely also a social obligation. The artist’s engaging painting and the numerous comments by contemporaries make this a masterwork showing us how art allowed people to come to terms with personal disappointment and suffering.
Shen Zhou was the founder of the Wu School of painting, a group of literati (non-professional scholar-artist) painters pursuing self-expression through the stylistic languages of their Yuan (1271–1368) predecessors.

Subject Matter:

Artist's signature: 1489. Summer. Shen Chou of Ch'ang-chou (Suchou). (Hung-chih chi-yu hsia, Ch'ang-chou Shen Chou.) Artist's seal follows the signature: Shen-shih Ch'i-nan. Calligraphy by T'ang Hsia-min on ya-hua-chih ("calendered flower paper"): Peach blossoms and plum, and spring is thick, The music of the pipes following day on day; For this full beauty men eagerly contend. Who then to love the torrent-bank pine? The west wind blowing cold fills heaven's ends-- Old autumn it is and hibiscus first flowers. So may the recluse look toward evening . And let both peach and plum possess the spring. I was unsuccessful in the examination halls-- seven times--and so in the autumn of 1477 I returned home, and as before. I lived hidden from ridicule. I was ashamed of my scholastic failure and yet perhaps it was Creations doing. Thus a former poet declared: Writing has its quick and slow Pure clouds are hard to reach. From my lonely mountain-top I deeply toasted my self-banishedment and riding on wine learned to chant two poems (er chüeh). My hope was that among others who shared these longings some would continune the tune. The result has been pearls and jadem filling my poetry sack, Even among you who are of the older generation there have been those (of like mind who have not passed the examinations). And so I have mounted all as a handscroll. When I have leisure I may ask my children to unroll it and intone (the poetry). Is this not better than excelling at flute or strings? And then my feelings will be burned to joy (through their fulfillment). If at some other time I do succeed, even so I should keep this scroll in order to look upon the depth of all you poets comfort and understanding. But if this aging worthlessness is not up to it, then, that is the difficulty of the examination. 1477, during the first day of the first month of winter. Written by T'ang Hsia-min. Seals of T'ang Hsia-min: Ts'ui-yün hsüan (blue-green-cloud balcony"); two other seals not completely decipherable are clearly, however, those of T'ang Hsia-min. Label: An early label is preserved and mounted just before the painting. Signed: Ch'ing-lan chen-shang ("Ch'ing-lan's precious appreciation") Colophons: 1. P'u Ying-hsiang: Two poems (written on the same section of ya-hua paper as T'ang Hsia-min's calligraphy). Signed: The pupil, P'u Ying-hsiang, respectfully ho. Across the joint where the ya-hua paper ends and the next paper begins is a single oval seal: Lien-hsüeh ("refining snow"). 2. Ch'en Hu-chüeh: Two poems. Signed: Ch'en Hu-chüeh, respectfully (with both hands) the same. Two seals: the first undeciphered, Ch'eng-chai. 3. Sun Lin-tz'u: Two poems. The writing of the poems is reversed from that of T'ang hsia-min's original scheme. The poem mentioning the pine is placed last. Signed: Sun Lin-tz'u. Three seals: Hsi-an, Hsi-shuo, Hsin-ch'ou chin-shih ("chin-shih of the year 1481"). 4. Yao Shou (1423-95): Two poems and commentary: Mountain air leans on the richness of sun's evening. In lateness staff and sandals are enough, wandering. Here and there--return is to a brushwood gate To hum to the clear autumn and one pine tree. Our faith is that man's life does have its bounds; Beside bamboo, no place for planting flowers. From southern plains to northern locks search out your poems, And again and again trample wiht your chariot the splendor of the moon. Pei-ch'uang ("North-window") himself laments his lateness in success. I consider that whether a man advances or whether he withdraws is guided by destiny. There can be no blame. Is it not better late than early? And so in my matching lines are phrases like: "The mountain air, sun's evening"; "Man's life has its bounds." When he examines it, what will Pei-ch'uang think? His elder brother, Lien-chou-tao-jen ("Lotus boat Taoist") and I are friends through mutual interests in metaphysical matters; and so I am delighted to write for him. 1483. The tenth day of the fifth month, stopping ten li south of P'ing-wang. Yün-tung-i-shih ("East-of-the-clouds recluse"). Yao Shou records. Five seals: Chia-ho, Ta-yün ("great-cloud"), Yao, Kung-shou, Yün-tung hsien-kuan ("east-of-the-cloud immortal hall). 5. Tu Chin (act. from ca. 1465 in Hopei and Kiangsu) Two poems. Signed: Ch'eng-chü ("Tamarisk-dweller"), Tu Chin. 6. Ch'en Yü: Two poems. Signed: Kuo-an, Ch'en Yü. Three seals: T'ien-yü-t'ing, Chao hsiao ta fang, Ch'en Shih Shih-ying. 7. Chou Chao: Two poems. Signed: Mo-hsüan ("Silent-balcony"), Chou Chao. 8. Ch'en Huang: Two poems. Signed: Lung-ch'i ("Dragon-stream"), Ch'en Huang. Seal: Ch'ao-kung. 9. Chou Luan: Two poems. Signed: Shih-sheng ("Serving my elders"), Chou Luan. Three seals: Ch'in-ch'uan ("lute-strean"), hsieh-i, Wen-yün. 10. Pien Hsün: Two poems. Signed: Lao-yu-sheng ("old friend"), Pien Hsün, respectfully (with both hands) the same. 11. Weng T'ung-ho (1830-1904), two colophons I. Two poems (once again taking up the Ming dynasty pattern). Signed: the ninth day of the first month at Miao-shih (in Peking) I obtained this scroll. Under the lamp I have written informally. Ch'ing-p'ing-sheng Ho. Seal: Ch'en, Weng T'ung-ho. II.Two poems (the same pattern). Signed: Meaning has not been exhausted (so I have) added 2 poems. Seal: Tzu-chih pai-kuei chih shih ("Hall of the purple mushroom and the white tortoise") Collectors' seals: Ch'ien-ch'iu-li-jen Wo-an so tsang a seal of Chu Chih-ch'ih (d. 1652) Ch'ing(?)-lan chien-ting Wen-chen-ko tu-shu chi Resource from R. Edwards, "Pine, Hibiscus and Examination Failures," Bulletin of The University of Michigan Museum of Art, pp. 14-28.

Physical Description:

Horizontally long. Ink on paper. Mostly calligraphy with a foliage imagery at the beginning.

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