Memory of Lost Gardens

Suspended shadows, thin stalks toy with clouds and rippling water,
A scented breeze seems to rise off the Ink Pond.
Dew wets red garments, golden powder falls,
Like dusky fragrance, a worn body receives their cool wind.
– Yun Shou-’ping, 1684

Stop and smell the roses. We’ve heard it before, but the idea of being fully immersed in flowers acquires a rich texture of meaning in Chinese painting. When Confucian values held the country in a straight jacket, the garden was the easiest escape. Your other options were drinking or madness. No one was duty bound in front of a chrysanthemum. The boundaries were clear, like the frame of a painting; the purpose of the garden was to delineate space where privacy was possible.

Chrysanthemums by Yun Sou-p’ing (1633-1690); Incense Box in the Shape of Overlapped Chrysanthemums; Prouenza Schouler Fall 2012
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Necklace by Judith Ritchie; Bracelet by Abigail Connell; Ring by Izzie Tale; Bracelet by Florz; Ring by Oleg; Pot of Gold by Syma Small Works; Ring by Artizan Work; Espresso Cup Duo by Light a Fire

For Yun Shou-p’ing, portraits of flowers, like these chrysanthemums, were an escape from the rigid rules of painting that had solidified around landscape. Flowers and birds were considered inferior, and ignored, giving him the chance to paint them as he wanted. And he wanted them to be graphic and colorful, qualities no “serious landscape painter” paid attention to.

Pear Blossoms by Ch’ien Hsuan; Botanical Blueprints by Makoto Murayama; Painting by Claire Basler
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Bracelet by Abataka Artisans; Necklace by rRradionica; Clutch by Rowena Dugdale; Bowl by Shino Takeda; Bowl by Valentina di Serio; Necklace by Marcia Wadsworth; Bag by Notforeat; Necklace by Studio Elenus

A few centuries before Yun Shou-p’ing, Ch’ien Hsuan (ca. 1235) painted pear blossoms to pay tribute to the long-lost court beauty of Song China. The pale leaves leave a subtle, almost faded impression, just as the accompanying poem describes a woman weeping behind a locked gate. Ch’ien believed Chinese art and culture to be locked behind the bars of the Mongol invasion. The lost gardens survive somehow within the confines of Ch’ien’s scrolls and petals.