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Grapes by Xu Wei 徐渭

Picture credit: The Palace Museum, Beijing (







Having been down and out for half of my life, [I] have become an old man,

Standing in my studio alone, letting out a long sigh in the evening wind.

The luminous pearls on the tip of my brush, with nowhere to be sold,

Are scattered and abandoned casually among the wild vines.

By Heavenly Pond[2]


湘管齋 (Xiang-Tube Studio): Xu Wei’s personal seal dedicated to a precious, broken brush made from Xiang bamboo.[3]


As one of the towering figures in the history of Chinese art and literature, Xu Wei 徐渭 (1521-1593) is known for his expressive style. Indeed, the bold, free brushwork in this painting distinguishes him from many other artists before and after him. Whereas grapes are often depicted with a squirrel to symbolise an abundance of descendants in auspicious paintings, Xu Wei disregards this artistic convention and uses the plant to express something completely different, a sense of sombre solitude.

According to Xu Wei’s verdict on his own talents, he considered his “calligraphy the best, poems second, prose third, and painting fourth (書第一, 詩二, 文三, 畫四).”[4] We thus have good reasons to believe that he would have urged the viewer of his painting to savour the text and calligraphy of his inscription at the same time.

[1] Red characters rhyme. [2] “Heavenly Pond” is one of Xu Wei’s style names. [3] See Xu Wei’s poem “Xiangzhu yi miaoguan fu jiehuai qi dingwen” 湘竹一妙管付截壞其頂文 on this incident in Xu Wenchang wenji 徐文長文集: [4] See Xu Wei’s biography by his countryman Tao Wangling 陶望齡 (1562-1609) in Xu Wenchang quanji 徐文長全集 (Shanghai: Guangyi shuju, 1936), 4.

A few examples of traditional "The squirrel and grapes" paintings:

1. “Putao songshu” 葡萄松鼠 by Qian Xuan 錢選 (1239-1299)

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

2. “Putao songshu” 葡萄松鼠by Zhou Zhimian 周之冕 (b. 1521)

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

3. “Songshu putao” 松鼠葡萄 by Liu Deliu 劉德六 (1806-1875)

Picture credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

4. “Songshu putao” 松鼠葡萄 by Sha Fu 沙馥 (1830-1906)

Picture credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art


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