Album of Flowers and Insects

Zhu Da (1626-1705)
Album of Flowers and Insects
China, Qing dynasty
ca. 1681
Album, Painting
11 leaves
Ink on paper
Each leaf 30.2 x 30.2 cm.
Gift of Mrs. George Rowley in memory of Professor George Rowley

Painted shortly after Zhu Da's return to secular life after over thirty years as a Buddhist monk, this delightful album of flower paintings and poems unexpectedly expresses the artist's personal discontent and bitter resentment. A direct descendant of the Ming imperial family, Zhu Da had taken refuge after the dynasty's demise in 1644 by donning priestly robes. Tenaciously loyal to the fallen Ming, he deplored life under the new Qing dynasty (1644–1912), established by the Manchu conquerors. The album begins with spring flowers and a series of sarcastic observations on youthful Chinese scholars willing to pursue office under the Manchus. Accompanying the summer flowers is facetious advice offered to the Qing emperor on how to govern, and with the flowers of late summer, fall, and winter, the artist reflects on his own circumstances. On the album leaf showing calamus growing on a rock, there is no poem, but the inference is clear. Alluding to a Tang dynasty poem, Zhu Da likens himself to the "grass on a rock" with shallow roots that finds it difficult to live (that is under Manchu rule). Although the album seems to lack a final leaf with an inscription and date, it is a deeply moving autobiographical reflection on life, with the artist's thoughts, emotions, hopes, and memories cast upon the flowers and plants of the passing months.

Published References & Reproductions

Vito Giacone, Chu Ta: Selected Paintings and Calligraphy (Poughkeepsie, 1973), cat. no. 10a-k.

Zhou Shixin, Bada shanren ji qi yishu [Life and art of Bada shanjen] (Taipei, 1974), 186-95.

Akai Kiyomi, Hachidai Sanjin shoga shu (Collection of calligraphy and paintings of Bada shanren) (Tokyo, 1975), pp. 238-47.

Bunjinga suihen (Tokyo, 1977). Vol. 6: Hachidai Sanjin, 17-27.

Suzuki Kei, comp., Chūgoku kaiga sōgō zuroku: daikkan, Amerika--Kanada hen (Comprehensive Catalogue of Chinese paintings: vol. 1, American and Canadian Collections) (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1982), pl. A18-035.

Chen Huisun, and Zhong Wenbin, Bada shanren huaji (A Collection of Bada shanren's paintings) (Kiangsi, 1985), 10-12.

Wang Fangyu, comp., Bada shanren lunji [Anthology of Essays on Bada shanren] (Taipei, 1985), 102-7.

Wang Fang-yu, and Richard M. Barnhart, Master of the Lotus Garden: Life and Art of Bada Shanren (1626-1705), (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 86-91, 219, cat. no. 3.

John Willats, Art and Representation: New Princeples in the Analysis of Pictures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 245, fig. 10.9.