Palace Women and Children Celebrating the New Year

Artist: Formerly attributed to Yan Liben (ca. 600-674)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, 15th-16th century
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 160.3 x 106.2 cm (63 1/8 x 41 13/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

celebration, child, China, festival, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), new year, woman, Zhong Kui

To 1916
Wang Jiantang, Shanghai to 1916 [1]

From 1916 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Wang Jiantang in 1916 [2]

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


[1] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1079, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[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
Wang Jiantang (C.L. Freer source) late 19th-early 20th century


The courtyard of this large two-storied building is occupied by a group of elegantly attired palace ladies surrounding two small boys, probably young princes, who cover their ears in anticipation as one of the women kneels to light a firecracker. A third boy looks on from a nearby room, while a small group of children and servants approach the entrance gate with a large brocade-covered ball. Other women sit at a table on the ground floor of the building as a serving girl affixes a portrait of Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, on the wall. The figure of Zhong Kui is associated with both the Chinese new year and the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, when his image was commonly hung in houses to ward off evil influences. Judging from the blossoming plums and camellias, both winter plants, and the barren branches of the other trees, the occasion being celebrated in this painting is the new year.                        

An old Ming dynasty (1368-1644) title slip, currently mounted on the back of the panel, attributes this painting to the Tang artist Yan Liben (600-674), who was both a court painter and palace architect. However, based on its subject and composition, this attribution is clearly anachronistic, and the painting is probably a mid-Ming copy of a work originally produced at the imperial academy during the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279).

Published References
  • James Cahill. Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China. Berkeley and Los Angeles. pp. 63, 101-109, figs. 4.1, 4.2.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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