Plum Blossoms

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Artist: Yansou 巖叟
Historical period(s)
Late Southern Song or Yuan dynasty, late 13th to mid-14th century
Ink on silk
H x W (image): 19.3 x 112.9 cm (7 5/8 x 44 7/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


China, flower, plum blossom, Southern Song dynasty (1127 - 1279), tree, Yuan dynasty (1279 - 1368)

Fukushima Company, New York 1931 [1]

From 1931
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Fukushima Company, New York in 1931 [2]


[1] Object file, undated folder sheet note.

[2] See note 1. Also see Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List file, Collections Management Office.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Fukushima Company


Though the trees often live for more than a hundred years, delicate plum blossoms only bloom in the late winter for a short time, thus experiencing a brief moment of perfection before they die. The understated elegance of the blossoms and their ability to thrive in the cold symbolize the uncompromised integrity of the recluse scholars. A comparison of this detailed depiction of plum blossoms and Zou Fulei's more spontaneous handscroll in the center case offers a study of contrasts. This painting by the artist known only as Yansou ("Old Man of the Cliffs") is the earliest known extant example of the "reverse saturation method," in which layers of color or ink blots are built up and then outlined to form the blossoms-a style that requires deliberate execution.

To learn more about this and similar objects, visit Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy.

Published References
  • Chung-kuo shu hua [Chinese Painting]. Taipei. vol. 3: p. 15.
  • Mary M. Mcdonald. It Draws Me: The Art of Contemplation. .
  • Wang T'ung wen. Yen-sou mo mei chuan ti shih tai [The Dating of the Plum-Blossom Painting' signed Yen-sou]. no. 3 Singapore. .
  • To So Gen Min meiga taikan [A Catalogue of Famous Paintings of the Tang, Sung, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties]. Exh. cat. Tokyo. pl. 117.
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1 (1982 ed.): pp. 204-205.
  • Osvald Siren. A History of Early Chinese Painting. 2 vols., London. vol. 2, pl. 95.
  • Osvald Siren. Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles. 7 vols., New York and London, 1956-1958. vol. 2: p. 89, vol. 3, pls. 366-367.
  • Osvald Siren. Kinas Konst Under Tre Artusenden. 2 vols., Stockholm, 1942-1943. vol. 2: pl. 92.
  • Li Hui-lin. Garden Flowers of China. Chronica Botanica, An International Biological and Agricultural Series, no. 19 New York. pl. 4.
  • William John Hoar. Wang Mien and the Confucian Factor in Chinese Plum Painting. Ann Arbor. figs. 18-20.
  • Kinjiro Harada. The Pageant of Chinese Painting. Tokyo. pl. 406.
  • Robert Hans van Gulik. Chinese Pictorial Art as Viewed by the Connoisseur: Notes on the Means and Methods of Traditional Chinese Connoisseurship of Pictorial Art, Based Upon a Study of the Art of Mounting Scrolls in China and Japan.
    . Orientale Roma, vol. 19 Rome. opp. p, 128, fig. 63.
  • Chuang Shen. Pei-Sung Wang Yen-shou mo-mei-t'u chi ch'i hua-feng chih ch'uan po., 1967-1968. pp. 34-38.
  • Mrs. Hin-cheung Lovell. Yen-sou's "Plum Blossoms": Speculations on Style, Date, and Artist's Identity. vol. 29 New York and Honolulu, HI, 1975-1976. pp. 59-79.
  • Maggie Bickford. Bones of Jade, Soul of Ice: The Flowering Plum in Chinese Art. Exh. cat. New Yaven, Connecticut. p. 69.
  • The Monochrome Principle: Lacquerware and Ceramics of the Song and Qing Dynasties. Munich. p. 86.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy
Google Cultural Institute
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