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Shen Feng (1686-1756)

‘Landscape after Wang Meng’ 1727

Hanging scroll, ink on paper
142 x 62 cm. (55 7/8 x 24 3/8 in.)

‘I have seen more than twenty paintings by the Woodcutter of Yellow Crane Mountain (Wang Meng). Among them we must regard the ‘Spring Dawn at Tan-t’ai’ in the collection of Wang Feng-ch’ang (Wang Shih-min) and ‘Dwelling in the Mountains on a Summer Day’ in the collection of T’ang Hsiao-lien as the best. Those who exhaust one year in investigating them to the very end, all of its aspects in great detail, will then be known as experienced and marvelous hands, for the common artists are unable to penetrate his profundities.

Shen Feng from Teng-ch’uan, two days after the first of the eighth lunar month, autumn of the year 1727.’

Artist’s seals:
Fan-min; Feng

Collector’s seal:
Mo-nan Ching-chien-ch’uan P’ing-sheng Hsin-shang

(See write up below.)

Shen Feng, tzu Fan-min, hao Pu-lo, Ch’ien-chai, and other names, was born in Chiang-rung, Kiangsu province. Following study in the National University, Shen became Associate Director-General of the Grand Canal and also prefect of Ch’i-she District. At least by the second decade of the 18th century Shen had also become a disciple of Wang Shu (1668-1743), who devoted his life to the study of calligraphy and whose knowledge of early styles and collections of model writing was unrivaled during his lifetime. It was certainly from Wang that Shen Feng received his initiation into the history of epigraphy and seal-carving; in later years Shen himself would write that he was best in seal-carving, second best in landscape painting, and third best in calligraphy. Many contemporaneous artists, especially those from Nanking and Yangchou such as Li Shan, Chin Nung, Li Fang-ying, Fang Shih-shu, and Cheng Hsieh, used seals carved for them by Shen Feng. Cheng Hsieh named his seal collection the ‘Hall of Four Fengs’ after Kao Feng-han, Kao Hsiang (tzu Feng-kang}, P’an Hsi-feng, and Shen Feng.

During the years Shen Feng was in charge of the southern portion of the Grand Canal, his office was located in Huai-an, the home region of Pien Shou-min, and during the 1720s both Shen and Wang Shu associated with that artist, famed then and now for his paintings of geese and reeds. During the later 1720s and ’30s Shen seems to have been often in the company of Fang Shih-shu. Fang did one painting for Shen in the year 1735, and even earlier, in the year 1715, Wang Shu had presented a painting done by Shen Feng to Fang’s scholar-official uncle, Fang Chen-kuan. In somewhat later years, perhaps during the late 1740s and early 1750s, Shen Feng was associated with such Nanking literati as Li Fang-ying and Yuan Mei (1716-1798), the plaques of whose famous Garden of Contentment were all written by Shen.

In addition to his highly developed skills in painting, seal-carving, and calligraphy, Shen Feng also became a very knowledgeable connoisseur of early calligraphy; according to the Tu-hua Chi-lueh of the later 18th century, ‘Sung and Yuan calligraphies which have been seen and inscribed by him have increased value.’ A number of recorded calligraphies and rubbings do in fact bear colophons by Shen, including an important rubbing owned by Mi Fu and a group of letters written by Chao Meng-fu. Shen’s colophon on the last of these, recorded in the Shih-ch’u Pao-chi Hsu-pien, was written in 1753 at the age of 68 sui, which argues that he was born in 1686 rather than 1685 as most modern sources have it. Since Shen died at the age of 71 sui, his death-date would then be 1686.

Shen Feng’s ‘Landscape after Wang Meng’ was painted fairly early during his career and is close in style to paintings done by Huang Ting (1660-1730), the teacher of Shen’s friend Fang Shih-shu. Especially noteworthy here are the clarity of the complex composition, the wide range of tonality obtained using ink alone, and the rich fabric created by the interwoven dots, strokes, and textured patterns. Much of this serves to recall Shen’s model, the 14th century master Wang Meng, while the increased emphasis on formal aspects of the painting is very much of Shen’s own place and time.

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