Asian Art Museum | Education

The best of Asian art at the tip of your fingers for use in the classroom or at home.

Sign up

In My Resources you can save the content you like all in one place. Get started by creating an account.

Create a new account

Poems, flowering plants, and trees, 1537

Poems, flowering plants, and trees, 1537

Poems, flowering plants, and trees, 1537, by Chen Chun (1483-1544). China;  Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Handscroll; ink and colors on paper. Gift of J. P. Dubosc, B70D4.

In the poems which accompany this painting, Chen Chun employs different styles of calligraphy loosely matching the style of strokes used in the painting. He writes some poems in regular script and others in running script to correspond to the flower's physical and allusive qualities:

  1. Osmanthus 桂花 In traditional Chinese literature this flower is associated with the moon; in the fall it turns to gold flecks covering the earth with extreme fragrance. Chun recommends seeking them with poetry and wine.
  2. The charm of red berries (nandina) 天竺 is brought forth by dew, its beauty enhanced by the wind.

  3. The gold buds of the yellow hibiscus 秋 葵 are surrounded by the green jadelike receptacle, their yellow petals embrace dark purple pistils.

  4. Hibiscus 木芙蓉 illuminate the sky when one goes boating on blue water in the fall. When going to one collecting the flowers from a row boat, blossoms look like layers of brocade before one’s eyes.

  5. The stems of the prunus (plum) 梅花 stretch horizontally by the clear water; their mysterious fragrance drifts in the air under the twilight moon.

  6. The camellia 茶花 has leaves that take on the appearance of the thick skin of the rhinoceros; the flowers are like the red crown of a crane.

  7. Bamboo 竹 comes out at the end of year in the ice and snow. It awakens a soul from a dream deep in the night.

  8. Narcissus 水仙 has a bashful appearance and is light as gauze.

  9. Short-needle pines 松 survive with lonesome- looking branches at dusk, and later wither after the cold season has ended.

  10. Red berries (nandina) 天竺, whose bright green leaves are softened by wind; their red essence glows bright against snow.

  11. Old pines 老松, stand at a height of a hundred meters in the cold, their bodies look green all over with scales; their white brambles were already seen against the sky, yet surprisingly, the pines seem to yield energy as if struck by thunder.

Birds and Flowers comprised one of the major categories of Chinese painting and, like Landscapes and Figure Painting, was represented by two major stylistic divisions: a carefully painted, colorful, realistic style (gongbi); and an expressionistic, predominantly ink style, called xieyi or idea writing.

In this painting, Chen Chun has arranged the branches of flowering plants and trees in a loosely structured composition. The plants bend and sway pointing to and from each other in a sort of rhythmic dance. Chen's interest in linear rhythms is underscored by the inclusion of short poems within the fabric of the composition. Poetry, painting, and calligraphy, the Three Perfections are all fully integrated.

The picture is not so much a group of botanical specimens as a poetic expression of the beauties of nature. Chen captures the personality, you might say, of each plant with his brushwork. Plum is stiff and thorny with fragile flowers clustered close to the stem while camelia stems curl under the weight of their heavy flowers and dense leaves. The dense, dark foliage of pine and cypress is expressed in dashes and dots of ink and color.

Chen uses several types of brushwork in this painting, including the two techniques of baimiao (outline method) and mogu (boneless technique). He uses color always in the boneless manner, such as in the camelia flowers where one or two strokes of color wash is enough to suggest each of the petals. There are no outlines nor carefully controlled layers of color. On the other hand, the baimiao technique seen in the painting of the narcissus and plum flowers, consists of outlines exclusively. Bamboo is a special plant to the scholar-painter. It is a symbol for the scholar-gentleman who bends but does not break in the wind, and the painting of it is a regular exercise in xieyi brushwork. Single strokes of the brush held at an angle form the leaves and darker, drier strokes form the jointed bamboo stems.

About the Artist
Chen Chun was a native of present-day Suzhou and was known for his skill in poetry, seal carving, calligraphy, and painting. Chen’ s teacher, Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), remarked that Chen Chun established “ his own approach”  that distinguished him from Wen’ s other followers.


See More [+]See Less [-]

You Might Also Like