Chen Hongshou, self-portrait as a drunken scholar, in the Figures, Flowers and Landscape album series, album collaborative with his son Chen Zi, ink and colour on silk, 22.2 x 21.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Chen Hongshou (1599-1652) excelled in painting and calligraphy. He became a Buddhist monk in 1646 but was torn between the conflicting ideals of Confucian government service and Buddhist retirement. His paintings suggest something of those tensions in dealing with ancient subjects and figure styles; indeed, Chen gave a brief but vigorous new life and dignity to the art of figure painting that had been in limbo since the Song dynasty (960–1279). Chen Hongshou specialized in figures, but he was also gifted at other subjects, including birds-and-flowers, grasses-and-insects, and landscapes. In figure painting, he sought the quality of his figure subjects rather than their absolute likeness. Chen Hongshou often used solid forms and curvilinear drapery lines, revealing the features of Li Gonglin’s and Zhao Mengfu’s styles. However, his manner was often exaggerated, and he became known as one of the “transformation” artists of the late Ming. He also did illustrations for woodblock printing, making a major contribution to the art of woodblock illustration in the late Ming.