Daoist Immortals Walking on Water

Artist: Formerly attributed to Fang Chunnian (ca. 1225-1264)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, late 15th century
Zhe School
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 121.2 x 78.1 cm (47 11/16 x 30 3/4 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)

China, Daoism, Daoist Immortals, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), miracle, turtle, water

To 1916
Li Wenqing (late 19th-early 20th century), Shanghai, to 1916 [1]

From 1916 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Li Wenqing, in New York, in 1916 [2]

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


[1] See Reserved Panel List, R. 25, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. See also, LVC Catalogue, 1915, No. 69.

[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
Li Wenqing (C.L. Freer source) ca. 1869-1931


These two figures wearing patched robes--one with a cape of leaves and the other with a sash of leaves--are wild and free figures, representing Daoist immortals living outside the bounds of the everyday world. The two men concentrate their gaze upon a turtle whose shell carries a thick blanket of green algae, a sign of a long life swimming the ocean. This painting probably belonged to a set of hanging scrolls made to be hung on the walls of a palace or court temple on days appropriate for Daoist celebrations. The theme of immortals crossing the sea was a popular story often presented in court paintings and enacted, as well, in colorful acrobatic and dramatic performances. It is possible the original set of scrolls may have also been displayed in an imperial theater when an entertainment was being performed. Members of the Ming court were fond of surrounding themselves with depictions of the blessings they sought, such as longevity, because they believed images could be efficacious in bringing them their wishes.

Published References
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1: p. 249.
  • Richard M. Barnhart. An Imaginary Exhibition of Chinese Paintings from the Freer Gallery. vol. 24, no. 3 Hong Kong, March 1993. pp. 34-35, fig. 4.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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