Chinese Literati Painting -- Page 10

    Shen Zhou & the Yuan Masters

Shen Zhou was noted for the extremely broad range of styles he commanded.  He devoted himself to painting as the sole focus of his life -- he was an accomplished poet, but undertook no government responsibilities or other arduous employment.  His exceptional skills gained him many kinds of financial support from family, friends, and patrons, and he taught many students as well.

The styles Shen Zhou mastered first were those of the various Yuan masters, and their influence is clearly visible throughout his life.  Shen Zhou painted many works that could easily have been mistaken for original Yuan paintings, but they were never regarded as plagiarized imitations or "mere" copies.  The high valuation of tradition made it acceptable for painters to go so far as to produce precise replicas of "classical" models -- it was as if, having absorbed through practice the techniques of these older masters, the later imitator had in fact "embodied" the model, and the replica was as much a form of his own self-expression as the original had been of the master's.

Compare the following two paintings.  The first is an unusually bold wet brush experiment by the Yuan master Wu Zhen, discussed on page 7 (there is some doubt as to whether Wu Zhen himself painted it, however).  The one below is by Shen Zhou.  Note how both the brush technique, the general rendering of nature, and the theme of the solitary traveler, armed with an umbrella, braced against the forces of nature are common to both.  Is Shen's painting a "Neo-Daoist-style" expression of his unique genius, or "Confucian" self-shaping through imitation?

00wuzhen_attrib.jpg (39343 bytes)

00shenzhou_wuz.jpg (20737 bytes)

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