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Landscape, Late 19th century
Formerly attributed to Shen Zhou, Chinese
Ink on paper
11 feet 3 inches × 39 3/4 inches (342.9 × 101 cm) Mount: 14 feet 4 1/2 inches × 53 inches (438.2 × 134.6 cm)
Gift of Alice Boney, 1975
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About This Painting

Shen Zhou (shen-joe), a famous literati painter of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), created this grand landscape. Born to an aristocratic family, Shen Zhou refused to work as a civil official and instead pursued his passion for painting, calligraphy, and poetry. His style is distinctively simple, letting a few delicate brushstrokes describe shapes, textures, and volume.

Chinese hanging scroll landscapes, like this one, are meant to be viewed from the bottom to the top. In the foreground, a scholar rows a boat and converses with another scholar in a boat across the reeds. A young attendant sits behind him, perhaps preparing tea. The leafless trees on the left draw the viewer's eyes to the middle ground, where the river narrows to a stream. In the thatched-roof cottage on the right, a third scholar sits at a window, contemplating nature's beauty.

The background begins with the mist in the valley behind the pine trees, whose straight trunks lead the viewer's eyes to the rocky outcrops on the mountaintops. The fullness of the mountains balances the emptiness of the river above the conversing scholars. The placement of objects, the succession of trees and rocks in front of the mountains, and the narrowing of the stream suggest depth.

Shen Zhou, a highly trained poet and calligrapher, has written one of his poems in the upper right: "Across the great lake I see the two old men. Their disheveled sidelocks brave the frost and wind. Their fishing poles lie neglected; books alone they hold dear in this world." Is it Shen Zhou who sits in the cottage admiring the view?


Three Basic Forms of Chinese Paintings

Chinese paintings were often done in ink and/or watercolor on paper or silk, then mounted on silk as a hanging scroll, a handscroll, or leaves in an album.

A hanging scroll is meant to be hung on the wall, suspended from a silk string. Often, the painting is mounted on a patterned silk support that complements the composition and colors. When not hanging, it is rolled from the bottom to the top, tied with string, and stored safely in a box. One views a hanging scroll by beginning at the bottom, moving one's eyes slowly toward the top.


A handscroll is designed to be viewed by only one or two people at a time, and is never seen all at once. It is unrolled by pulling the end of the scroll to the right with the right hand, while holding the rest of the scroll with the left hand. The painting on the scroll is often sequential and is meant to be viewed from right to left, the same way Chinese writing is read. Though a handscroll may be as long as twenty feet, when viewed properly, only one arm’s length of the picture is visible at a time.


An album leaf painting is small and made to fit in an album or book-like covering. Albums can be composed of square, rectangular, or fan-shaped paintings. Collections such as these can be assembled by artists or collectors, and are usually organized according to a specific artist, period, or subject matter.


This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.


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