This painting of wild narcissi and short sprigs of young bamboo growing at the base of a rock is a masterwork of the artist Chen Jiayen. Forcefully executed with quick, bold brushstrokes in soft, gradated tones of ink wash, the primary forms of the Kimbell painting have a remarkable solidity. Darker ink is used to define the short, spiky leaves of bamboo, while the gently curving leaves of the narcissi are left white within a lighter ink outline.
What appears to be an unassuming painting of rocks and flora is, in fact, a thinly veiled expression of the artist’s innermost thoughts and emotions. The scroll is the earliest of Chen’s paintings to include a poem and the combination of bamboo, rocks, and narcissus. The mood of the poem, written on New Year’s Day, 1652, is one of despair and desolation, a reflection of contemporary events. The poem laments the bleak days after the fall of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) with an allusion to a famous eighth-century rebellion, which similarly left the country destroyed, and to a Han-dynasty poetess who mourns her feelings of grief and abandonment. Like most Chinese paintings of plants and flowers, especially those executed in monochromatic ink, this work has a moral significance. Despite the bleak overtones of the poem, Chen has painted bamboo, which bends in the wind but will not break, and narcissi, harbingers of spring, to symbolize the strength and self-regeneration needed to give hope to a fallen nation.
Asada Juzaburo, Nagasaki, Japan;
(Howard Rogers, Kamakura, Japan);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1984.