Liu Hai Crossing the Sea

Artist: Probably by Zhao Qi (active 1488-1505)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, late 15th century
Zhe School
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 140.9 x 99.2 cm (55 1/2 x 39 1/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 13: Looking Out, Looking In: Art in Late Imperial China

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

China, Liu Hai, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), toad, water, wave

To 1915
Abel William Bahr (1877-1959), London, to 1915 [1]

From 1915 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Abel William Bahr, London, in 1915 [2]

From 1920
The Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Panel List, L. 118, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Abel William Bahr (1877-1959) was a collector and dealer born in Shanghai, China. After he left Shanghai in 1910, he lived, at various points in time, in London, Montreal, and Ridgefield, Connecticut. He established a gallery in New York City in 1920.
This object exhibits seals, colophons, or inscriptions that could provide additional information regarding the object’s history; see Curatorial Remarks in the object record for further details.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Abel William Bahr (C.L. Freer source) 1877-1959


Liu Hai ("Ocean Liu") is one of the most popular immortals of Daoism. He is often shown with a three-legged toad that could take him wherever he wished. Usually Liu also carries a string of gold coins with which he repeatedly captured his toad whenever it escaped down a well. Liu and his toad symbolize wealth and good fortune. Here, the replacement of gold coins with two peaches of immortality suggests a broader and more general function, as an auspicious symbol of long life, good luck, and happiness.

Another version of this composition, in the Nezu Museum, Tokyo, bears the signature of Zhao Qi, a court painter of the fifteenth century, suggesting that both pictures came from Zhao's workshop.

The popular tale of the immortals crossing the sea was often enacted in colorful displays of acrobatics and dramatic performance. It is possible that this scroll was originally part of a set of pictures that were displayed on the walls of an imperial theater when an entertainment was being performed.

Published References
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1: p. 257.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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