Female painters in late imperial era

Wen Chu

Updated: Mar 5, 2020 Print
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Wen Chu (1595-1634), a native of Suzhou in East China’s Jiangsu province, was born into a family of painters and was the great-great-granddaughter of Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), a master painter of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Since childhood she was profoundly influenced by the Wen family’s ink brushwork style, and practiced hard to capture it in her painting. She spent three solid years carefully imitating – with more than 1,000 drafts – the herbal medicine illustrations depicted in the high-quality edition of Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu), compiled by the celebrated herbalist and physician Li Shizhen (1518-93).

After marriage, she sketched plants growing in the natural environment around her mountain villa. The pictures, also over 1,000 in number, have been collected under the title Insects and Flora in Hanshan Mountain. With such diligence, she was able to render the subjects with skillful maneuvering of brush pens, and depicted flowers, grasses, and insects accurately and vividly. She eventually became a leading female painter in the Ming Dynasty women painting circle, and was hailed as "the only lady of Suzhou to excel in painting over the past 300 years."

Fan face by Wen Chu in 1629 [Photo/]

Flower and Butterfly
Dated 1629
Fan face, ink and color on golden paper, 16.5×52.6 cm
Collection of the Palace Museum
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One painting of the album by Wen Chu in 1631 [Photo/]

Dated 1631
Album of 8 leaves, ink and color on paper, 27.8×42.8 cm
Collection of the Palace Museum
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