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 Inept Administrator (Zhuozheng Yuan) was built on the site of an ancient temple in Suzhou by the censor Wang Xianchen (act. ca. 1500–1535). In 1527, after an unhappy stay in Beijing, the artist Wen Zhengming returned to Suzhou, where he was given a studio in the garden. In an album of 1535, Wen painted thirty-one views of the site, each accompanied by a poem and a descriptive note. Sixteen years later, at the age of eighty-one, he painted this second album of eight views. The garden still exists in Suzhou, but centuries of renovations make it difficult to identify Wen's scenes.

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