Xu Wei must be one of the most tragic figures in the whole of Chinese painting history, who suffered a number of setbacks during his lifetime: When he was 14, his mother died. His first wife, whom he married at the age of 21, died five years later. Xu attempted to enter civil services, but failed the examinations eight times. He nevertheless managed to serve among the coastal guards, but when his leader got arrested, Xu Wei feared for his life. His mental imbalance – academics today believe that it was caused by Bipolar Disorder – led him to attempt suicide nine times and to kill his second wife, being paranoid that she would betray him. He was imprisoned for seven years and freed at the age of 53. He later applied himself to painting, poetry, and his work as a playwright.
Art Becomes Classic – Blurring of Boundaries Between Academic and Amateur Painting in China
The end of Mongol rule and the re-establishment of an indigenous Chinese emperor in 1368 led to a revival of the Imperial Academy and the painting styles of the Southern Song (960-1279 CE) and the Yuan (1271-1368 CE) Dynasties. Some painters picked up the painting style of the Southern Song Dynasty, especially that of the Ma-Xia-School. Others continued the tradition of bird-and-flower painting from the times of Emperor Huizong. Other artists brought colors back into picture and revived the blue-and-green painting style of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Since most of the Academy painters came from the Zhejiang province, they were named the “Zhe school”. The most notable painter of the Zhe School was Dai Jin. Their counterpart, literati painters from the Wu region in Suzhou, continued in the more expressive and individual styles of the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty. They are known as the “Wu school”, of whom Shen Zhou is best known for his eclecticism and ability to paint in the styles of former masters. Although this two main currents in painting existed, the boundaries between academic and amateur painters blurred – not in stylistic terms, but in attitude, mostly when some literati, who had devoted themselves to nothing else but painting, started to accept money for their works, which had been not the case in earlier centuries.
A Brief Biography of Shen Zhou (沈周/Shen Chou/Qinan)
Shen Zhou was born into a wealthy family of tax collectors, which allowed him to receive a thorough education. Since his family was rich enough to live from its work as tax collectors, Shen did not have to seek for a government post, but could freely devote himself to painting, poetry and traveling. Even after the death of his father, who had been the head of the family, Shen did not strive after an official career, but devoted himself to the care of his mother.