“The young do not distinguish the mid-autumn moon, and view it as no different from that of other times; When older we become partial and feel a mutual attachment, desiring it to return in response, we love this auspicious festival.
How many more mid-autumn moons can an old man experience, for true it is that flowing time cannot be stayed; Always it is the people who change, never the moon, the old moon with new people is like a horse with an ox in heat.
With wine in the jug there is happiness, when cups are passed around none refuse; The fullness of the moon returns like the fullness of a person's life, thus do people disappear, just like the waning of the moon.
One sees and gradually realizes that there are fewer old men, so if I use the moonlight to roam at night, how can I be blamed? Loudly singing T'ai-po's (Li Po) 'Query to the Moon', I boast that white hair has bested the green spring of youth.
Green springed youth and white hair are certainly not equal, so bravely grasp the rippling wine and drink to the moon; This old man has reached the age of sixty years, but I still ask the mid-autumn (moon) to lend me forty more.
While enjoying the mid-autumn moon, P'u Ju-cheng and the rest of us composed poems. Ju-cheng brought out paper and asked me to paint a small picture and to write as its end. Shen Chou, from Ch'ang-chou and called Pai-shih-weng, wrote this in the P'ing-an Pavilion of Yu-chu-chuang.”
The simplicity of the presentation, in which much defining detail from the natural world is omitted, increases the visual impact of what is portrayed, including the blunt texture stokes and concise dots out of which the riverbank and rocks are constructed. Much of this approach is based on the style of Wu Chen (1280-1354), the Yuan master who was a particular favorite of Shen Chou. One of Wu’s paintings bears a colophon by Shen attesting to his admiration: “I love the old Plum-blossom (Taoist) who inherited the heart-imprint of old Chu-(jan); Cultivating this water-and-ink affinity, in everything he captured antique richness. The trees and rocks proceeding from the tip of his brush, would not be regretted by Nature itself; So today, beneath this chestnut, I vow to grasp the broom and sprinkle water (as a disciple). The latter-day student, Shen Chou.”
Many of Shen Chou’s paintings were done in commemoration of poetic gatherings, such as that in 1469 with friends Liu Chueh (1410-1472), Chu Hao (1405-1482), Chou Ting, and Wei Ch’ang-lien, and the festival of Mid-Autumn Moon was among the most special of these occasions. In common with many Shen Chou’s handscrolls, including the present example, the artist signed not the painting itself but rather the long inscription that follows the painting on separate paper.
The present painting is discussed by Sun Ch’eng-tse (1593-1675) under the title “Enjoying the Moon in the Yu-chu Chuang, ‘Villa with Bamboo’.” “When Shih-weng (Shen Chou) designed his Villa with Bamboo, he wrote out a prayer so as to summon the bamboo, which was a very telling thing to do. This picture was done in the P’ing-an T’ing, ‘Pavilion of Contented Peace,’ within the villa while Shih-weng and P’u Ju-cheng, were enjoying the mid-autumn moon. The brush and ink-work are very clear and superior. Following that is a long song that was worthy of inclusion in Pai’s Su-(chou) collection (of poems). The characters are as large as bowls and resemble those of Huang Lu-chi (Huang T’ing-chien, 1045-1105) – truly inspired brushwork…”
A variant of this poem appears on a painting done some years later by Shen Chou; here his friend P’u Ju-cheng is not mentioned but rather a certain Shu-an, “Hut of Expansion.” If, as seems likely, Shen Chou was writing the poem from memory, he may have used a nickname to refer to P’u Ju-cheng, or he could have changed the poem in details so as to make it suitable for presentation to another person on a different occasion. In any case, the painting in the Museum of Fine Arts bears a second poem by Shen Chou that is signed: “Shen Chou did this again. One can see the happiness of the event, but the poem is not worth preserving.” The second poem (Figure 1), which mentions the menu of crab claws, fish and wine as well as the moon and songs, was thus held sufficient by the artist to conjure the pleasure of the event but was considered not so good a poem as the first, which was rewritten for the later occasion.
(Excerpt from Kaikodo Journal, Autumn 1996)
Pu Zheng, zi Ruzheng and Yingxiang, hao Shu’an. His ancestors migrated south during the Song Dynasty, and his clan had lived in Loumen ever since.
Mentioned above, Shen Zhou’s Watching the Mid-Autumn Moon at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bears an inscription by the painter that is very similar to the one on the present work. The last two lines on the Boston painting are: “Shu’an and I are men of sixty years / I ask the mid-autumn for forty more.” The last two lines on the present work are: “I, an old man, am sixty years old / I further give mid-autumn forty more.” This suggests that the two paintings date from the same year. Watching the Mid-Autumn Moon bears another poetic inscription by Shen Zhou:
"In a farmhouse, we held a small banquet to enjoy autumn: Crabs and fish freshly offered by the stream.
Glorious is the moon in the blue sky; The five elders were all white-haired.
We exchanged many cups of wine, Laughing and conversing about our homes, we expressed ourselves genuinely.
We did not return home until we were thoroughly drunk; The wind and dew did not touch our head cloths."
Shen Zhou recreated this experience so that its pleasures could be seen, although his poetry was not worthy of circulation.”
On a separate inscription on the painting, Zhu Yunping wrote:
"As ten thousand households shone together with the autumn moon, We enjoyed the music and celebrated our friendships at your home.
The wine-drinking was in a strict order of seniority; To the poetic topics we responded as equals.
It was amusing to see small Nephew Xian hit the drum, Supported by Nephew Wei of the clear voice.
It is said that Nanmei had many lofty gatherings. Why did only friends and students accompany those returning?"
Based on the descriptions of the joyful festivities in the present work and in Watching the Mid-Autumn Moon, we can make the following conjecture: in 1486, Shen Zhou was sixty years old. On a day before the Mid-Autumn Festival, Shen Zhou hosted a banquet at his residence. It so happened that Pu Ruzheng was visiting. Host and guest experienced the four pleasures of good time, beautiful scenery, relaxed mood, and enjoyable events before parting ways. Shen Zhou was then inspired to paint Watching the Mid-Autumn Moon and write the poem that begins with “In my youth I did not recognize the mid-autumn moon.” The poem ends by mentioning that he and Pu Ruzheng were both sixty years old. At night on the following day, that is the Mid-Autumn Festival, Shen Zhou, Pu Ruzheng, and another friend appreciated the moon in Ping’an Pavilion in the bamboo garden that Shen Zhou’s family had lived for generations. After lamenting the passage of time, Shen Ruzheng produced a small piece of paper and sought a small landscape from Shen Zhou. In spite of its simple and minimalist composition, this painting is deeply meaningful and evokes the scene of Shen and Pu’s meeting. The brushwork is spare but robust, infused with “bone method” and demonstrating a strong technical foundation. The ink tones are light but elegant, refreshing, and no less gentle and nourished than Wu Zhen’s. As Sun Chengze said, “[Shen Zhou’s] brushwork is even purer and thus superior.” On that night, the moon was white and round like a disc, and the stars were dense like an embroidered brocade. After conversing with his friends about home, Shen Zhou accepted the requests to paint. Because he copied Wu Zhen’s works throughout his life, his brushwork naturally reflected Wu Zhen’s manner. This small leaf can even be said to capture the essence of Wu Zhen’s Poetic Ideas at Caoting (fig. 1): whether in composition, brushwork, or ink work. Shen Zhou’s work shows an unconscious harking back to Wu Zhen. After finishing the painting, Shen Zhou was still in an expressive mood, and so he wrote the long poem from the previous night again in Huang Tingjian’s manner. The poem laments the passage of time, but is rendered through vigorous and masterful control. Shen Zhou projected his emotions onto a natural scene, which he then painted using Wu Zhen’s manner, and augmented with a poem written in the style of Huang Tingjian. He gave the result to his bosom friend. Shen Zhou’s work remains particularly evocative of the Mid-Autumn Festival five hundred and thirty years later.
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