Searching for Plum Blossoms While Riding a Donkey

Artist: Probably by Zhou Chen (ca.1450-ca.1535) Formerly attributed to Zhang Xunli (act. late 12th century)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, early 16th century
Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 159.3 x 84.4 cm (62 11/16 x 33 1/4 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, donkey, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), plum blossom

To 1917
Li Wenqing (late 19th-early 20th century), Shanghai, to 1917 [1]

From 1917 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Li Wenqing, in New York, in 1917 [2]

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


[1] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1154, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. See also, Voucher No. 18, December 1916.

[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


On the left side of the painting, a man appears riding a donkey along a lakeside trail. Bundled against the cold and accompanied by a servant carrying his zither (qin), the man is making a day excursion, which started perhaps from the rustic houses nestled snugly behind him at the base of towering mountains. Passing the first plum tree on the trail, he heads toward a nearby promontory, where an open-sided, thatched pavilion awaits, shaded by two large pines and other plum trees in bloom. Searching for plum blossoms first appeared as an important theme in Chinese painting during the Song dynasty (960-1279), and numerous accounts confirm that it was a common seasonal practice for scholars to make forays into the mountains to gather plum blossoms and compose poetry about their ephemeral, pristine beauty.

The left side of the painting has been trimmed, obscuring the thematic importance of the rider and perhaps removing the artist's signature. Although this work is currently unsigned, the heavy outlines of the branches and tree trunks, along with other details, such as the face of the rider and the decisive brushwork of the rock and mountain formations, show all the stylistic hallmarks of the professional artist Zhou Chen, an early exponent of the Wu School, which was centered during the middle Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in Zhou's native city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

Published References
  • Suiboku bijutsu taikei. 17 vols., Tokyo, 1973-1977. vol. 2 (1974): pl. 120.
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1: p. 252.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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