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[明 沈周 《江村漁樂圖》 卷

Happy Fishermen of the River Village

Painting: Gone Fishing

Two small islands with fishing villages occupy the center of the painting. At the right end is a group of small skiffs, each with one occupant, some fishing but others seemingly unoccupied. One craft has pulled into shore, and two figures walk toward a group of men who have gathered outside the palisade that demarcates the village. The men are having a party—one is lying down, perhaps from having too much to drink. Another man and a dog emerge through the fence to join them. At left is another small group of boats and men fishing with rods and nets. Other boats are moored, with their nets drying onshore. Flocks of waterfowl, maybe geese, wing in long lines off into the distance.

The subtle color palette, the shapes of the rocks and mountains, and Shen Zhou’s refined use of texture strokes epitomize his personal synthesis and reinterpretation of landscape styles. He derived such techniques from gentleman artists of the Yuan dynasty, many of whom also devoted their lives to art and did not serve as officials. Scenes of everyday life on the river were a common subject for the educated Chinese elite, who mostly resided in towns and cities but, like Shen, also had experience of rural life.


Harboring an idealized view of fishermen (and, to some extent, anyone who made a living from the environment), Wu School artists did not have much interest in the actual circumstances of survival. In their estimation, the common fisherman, surrounded by family and friends, led an enviably simple existence in harmony with nature, blissfully untroubled by outside issues and events. Most importantly, from Shen Zhou’s point of view, such fisher-folk lived and worked together easily and were not burdened with the need to hire field hands or to pay government taxes on land and produce.


Shen Zhou wrote a poem at the left end of the painting extolling the simple, unencumbered lives of fishermen:

Sand and water whirl and swirl, waves slapping the shore
In flowering reeds and maple leaves, all roads run astray
Selling fish, they beat their drums, evening wind is swift
Drying nets, they moor their boats, sun sinks in the west
In raincapes made of straw, old men slumber in their cups
And cook-wives rhyme with river tunes of Bamboo Branches
In society such joys are found in the homes of fishermen
But I am beset by tax and rent and regret I wield a plow


Following the painting are five colophons, three by Ming writers of the mid- to late sixteenth century and two by Qing writers of the late eighteenth century:

  • Yao Zhen 姚貞 (active mid- to late sixteenth century), written at Beigu (modern Zhenjiang), 1549
  • Chen Yongnian 陳永年 (active 1570s–1620s), from Dantu (modern Zhenjiang), 1578
  • Wu Zuoqing 鄔佐卿 (mid- to late sixteenth century), from Dantu (modern Zhenjiang), 1583
  • Yongxing, Prince Cheng 成親王永瑆 (1752–1823), Beijing, undated
  • Chen Chongben 陳崇本 (jinshi 1775), from Shangqiu, Henan province, 1791

[明 沈周 《江村漁樂圖》 卷
Happy Fishermen of the River Village

Shen Zhou (1427–1509)
China, Ming dynasty, 1480s
Handscroll; ink and color on paper
Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art F1939.2

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