Garden of the Inept Administrator

Artist: Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559)

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: dated 1551

Culture: China

Medium: Album of eight painted leaves with facing leaves inscribed with poems; 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)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Douglas Dillon, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.458.1a–ii


The Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician [Garden of the Clumsy Administrator] (Zhuozheng Yuan) was established on the site of an ancient temple in Suzhou by the censor Wan Xianchen (active ca. 1500–1535) during the Jiajing reign (1522–66). In 1527, after an unhappy stay in Beijing, Wen Zhengming returned to Suzhou, where he was given a studio in the garden. In an album dated 1535, Wen depicted thirty-one views of the site, each accompanied by a poem and a descriptive note. Sixteen years later, at the age of eighty-one, the artist painted this second album representing eight views. The garden still exists in Suzhou today, but centuries of renovation make it difficult to identify the scenes that Wen painted.

In these works, Wen achieved the ideal integration of the three separate arts of poetry, calligraphy, and painting ("the three perfections"). With characteristic restraint, he chose to use only ink in the paintings, but, aided by the poems, the quiet and exquisite images easily transport us to that magical, autumnal moment in the garden.