The Pleasure of Fishes, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), dated 1291
Zhou Dongqing (Chinese, active late 13th century)
Handscroll; ink and color on paper; Image 12 1/8 x 19 ft. 4 in. (30.8 cm x 59.4 m), Overall with mounting 12 5/8 x 441 3/4 in. (32.1 x 1122 cm)
From the Collection of A. W. Bahr, Purchase, Fletcher Fund, 1947 (47.18.10)
The Pleasure of Fishes, dated 1291, is the only surviving painting of Zhou Dongqing, a friend of the famous Song loyalist and a fellow native of Jiangsi Province, Wen Tianxiang (1236–1283).
This long handscroll bears an inscription by the artist at the end that alludes to the tale "The Floods of Autumn" in the Daoist classic Zhuangzi. In that tale, Zhuangzi and Huizi, the prime minister of the state of Liang, were walking beside the Hao River when Zhuangzi observed, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!" The other said, "You are not a fish—how do you know what fish enjoy?" Zhuangzi rejoined, "You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?" Huizi replied, "I am not you so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish—so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy!" Zhuangzi responded, "Let's go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy—so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao [River]." Through his art, Zhou Dongqing found another way to "describe the indescribable," as he remarks in his inscription: "we can only take an idea and make it into a painting."