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Founding Father of the Wumen School: Shen Zhou

Time:2008-10-16   Source:

Shen Zhou (1427-1509), a famous painter of the mid-Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was the founding father of the Wumen School. Shen styled himself after (Qi)nan, with sobriquet Shitian and later Baishi Weng, or Yutian Weng. People referred to Shen as Baishi Xiansheng.

A native of Suzhou City in South China, Shen was born into an intellectual family. His great-grandfather was Wang Meng’s good friend; his father, Hengji, was a student of the painter Du Qiong. Both his father and uncle were known for their poems, prose, calligraphy and paintings. Shen was fond of reading, writing poems and painting all his life in his pursuit for spiritual liberation. He was well learned and had made many friends.

Scholar painting underwent important developments during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (1279-1644). Learning from Huang Tingjian, Shen became a distinguished painter who specialized in depicting landscapes, flowers, birds, as well as figures. Most subjects in his landscape paintings were the mountains, bodies of water and gardens ofSouth China, which revealed the leisurely life of scholars of that period. Shen drew from the styles of Dong Yuan, Ju Ran of the Five Dynasties (907-960), Huang Gongwang, Wang Meng and Wu Zhen of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), as well as from other famous painters of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Shen formed his own style using thick-stroke ink and wash. Having created many small paintings before the age of 40, in his later years Shen switched to big landscape paintings. He painted with a prudent style, using placid strokes in his middle age, which became unrestrained and magnificent.

Various techniques can be seen in Shen’s paintings. As the leader of theWumenSchool, he developed the techniques of freehand brushwork of landscape painting and flower-bird painting. Most of his works were collected by large Chinese museums. Some important works at the Palace Museum of Beijing include Fang Dong Ju Shanshui Tu, Cangzou Qutu, Zuyi Tu, Mocai Tu, Woyou Tu, etc. Some other top-quality works can be found at Nanjing Museum, such as Dongzhuang Tu and Mudan. There are two paintings by Shen at Liaoning Museum: Appreciating Chrysanthemum Grown from a Flowerpot and Mist-Covered Waters and Mountain Ranges. Produced by Shen two years before his death, the two works were painted using freehand strokes.