QING DYNASTY, 18TH CENTURY
The washer is carved from a single piece of duan stone of greenish brown colour and is of rectangular form with indented corners. It is incised around the sides and base with boughs of plum blossoms, verse inscriptions, and seals. On the front, the couplet to the right of the plum blossoms reads as follows:
|三冬煙氣都消盡||Now the last month of winter and clouds and mist are all gone,|
|只剩梅花與瘦枝||Leaving behind only prunus blossoms with their slender boughs.|
The couplet is followed by the signature Chaolin 巢林 “Nesting in Woods” [the sobriquet of Wang Shishen 汪士慎 (1686-1762)], then xie 寫 (written by Chaolin), and finally two seals Wang 汪 and Shi 氏 “Of the Wang Clan” in seal script.
On the back, the inscription to the left of the of plum blossoms reads:
|領取僧窗間白畫||Taken from a sketch displayed within a temple window—|
|梅花枝上占東風||Prunus blossoms on a bough capturing an easterly breeze.|
領取僧窗間白畫 Taken from a sketch displayed within a temple window—
梅花枝上占東風 Prunus blossoms on a bough capturing an easterly breeze.
The seal Jinren 近人 in seal script is inscribed again here following the couplet.
One side is inscribed in clerical script as follows:
|“Tender by virtue, pure by principle, your integrity remains firm even when ground down, never worn thin, your true nature lasts forever.|
Followed by 錄高南阜銘 “Copied from an inscription by Gao Nanfu 高南阜” Nanfu “South Hill” is the sobriquet of the painter, poet, and seal carver Gao Fenghan 高鳳翰 (1683-1749).
The other side reads as follows:
|Between Heaven and Earth each thing has its owner. If it is not owned by me, then I should not take it, even if it were merely a fine hair. The only exceptions are the cool breeze on the river and the bright moon among the mountains: reaching my ears, the former makes a voice; meeting my eyes, the latter forms a vista. Taking never finishes them, and using never exhausts them, thus they are the endless store of the Great Creator.|
On the base are two seals, 汪 Wang and 玩 wan , which should be read together as “For the enjoyment of Wang”.
The inscriptions on the front and back outer faces consist of couplets composed by Wang Shishen 汪士慎 (1686-1762). Wang Shishen, personal name Jinren 近人, sobriquet Chaolin 巢林 (Nesting in Woods), was a native of Xiuning 休寧 in present-day Anhui, who moved in later life to live in Yangzhou 揚州, where he became a prominent calligrapher and painter—one of the Yangzhou baguai 揚州八怪 (the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou), famous for his love for and paintings of prunus blossoms. He was also a skilled seal carver. In his later years he lost the use of one eye, which prompted him to carve a seal, Shangliu yimu kan meihua 尚留一目看梅花 “One eye still kept to view prunus blossoms”. Later even when he became entirely blind in old age, he could still do calligraphy and paint prunus blossoms, inscribing his works Xinguan 心觀 (Seen with the Mind). His writings were published as the Chaolin ji 巢林集 (Literary Collection of Nesting in Woods) in four fascicles (1744), supplemented in an extremely rare seven fascicle edition published slightly later. The four fascicle edition is headed by a wood block portrait of Wang Shizhen:
The inscription on the left outer face is copied from a text by Gao Fenghan 高鳳翰 (1683-1749). Gao’s personal name was Xiyuan 西園; he had several sobriquets, including Nancun 南村 (South Village) and Nanfu 南阜 (South Hill). A native of Jiaozhou 膠州 in present-day Shandong, he chose to live in Yangzhou after being unjustly demoted from his official post. There he achieved great fame for his calligraphy, paintings, and seals, and, like Wang Shishen, he was considered one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou. Suffering some illness, in 1737 his right hand became diabled, but he continued to paint with his left. Addicted to the lore of inkstones, he personally collected more than a thousand of them. His publications include the Yanshi 硯史 (History of Inkstones), and his collected writings were published as the Nanfu ji 南阜集 (Literary Collection from South Hill). However, the inscription here was originally written by Zhu Yizun 朱彜尊 (1629- 1709); see Zhu’s Pushuting ji 曝書亭集 (Literary Collection from the Pavilion for Sunning Books) (Siku quanshu ed.), 61:10b), with only minor differences. Wang’s inscription reads as above while Zhu’s text reads sui mozhi bulin yibao qizhen 雖磨之不磷以葆其貞 (ground down, you are never made thin, thus you preserve your firm virtue). Mozhi bulin 磨之不磷 “Ground down he is never made thin” is a quotion from the Analects 17:7, where it alludes to the noble man who remains firm in the face of adversity.
Pushu ting ji 曝書亭集 (Literary Collection from the Pavilion for Sunning Books) (Siku quanshu ed.), 61:10b:
The inscriptions on the side quote from the Qian Chibi fu 前赤壁賦 (Earlier Rhapsody On the Red Cliff) by Su Shi 蘇軾 (Su Dongpo 蘇東坡, 1036-1101), with minor differences; see Dongpo quanji 東坡全集 (Complete Literary Collections of Dongpo) (Siku quanshu ed.), 33:13a. The differences lie in the latter half of the quotations. The brush washer inscription reads quzhi wujin yongzhi bujie shi zaowuzhe wujincang ye 取之無盡用之不竭是造物者無盡藏也 “Taking never finishes them, and using never exhausts them, thus they are the endless store of the Great Creator), and Su Shi’s text reads quzhi wujin yongzhi bujie shi zaowuzhe zhi wujincang ye 取之無禁用之不竭是造物者 之無盡藏也 (Taking is always allowed, and using never exhausts them, thus they are the endless store of the Great Creator”.