Miscellaneous Studies, one leaf dated 1619
Chen Hongshou (Chinese, 1598–1652)
Album of twelve paintings, ink on paper; Each leaf 7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)
Ex coll.: Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wan–go H. C. Weng, 2005 (2005.112a–l)
This album, a tour de force by the precocious twenty-one-year-old artist, plays on the theme of reality versus illusion: the moon is shown reflected in a basin of water, a flower next to its image in a mirror, and a butterfly being attracted to chrysanthemums painted on a silk fan. In the fan painting, Chen emphasizes the multiple levels of his artifice by incorporating his signature within the composition and by screening one wing of the butterfly with the fan, forcing us to view the butterfly through the painting as well as through the medium of painting. Other artful manipulations are represented by a miniature potted garden or pencai (bonsai in Japanese), which demonstrates how human beings can transform nature, and by a twig with worm-eaten leaves, which underscores how nature constantly transforms itself.
There is no precedent in scholar painting for such symbolic still-life subjects. Instead, these highly sophisticated images, which relate to the ornamental designs found on deluxe crafts of the period, including molded ink-cakes, printed stationery, and the carved decoration of Yixing ceramics, reflect Chen Hongshou's early involvement in creating woodblock illustrations for novels and dramas.