Birds in Wintry Trees

Artist: Formerly attributed to Li Di (active late 12th-early 13th century)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, 16th-17th century
Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 195.1 x 97.5 cm (76 13/16 x 38 3/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

China, landscape, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), pine tree, snow

To 1916
Pang Yuanji (1864-1949), Shanghai [1]

From 1916 to 1970
Eugene Meyer (1875-1959) and Agnes E. Meyer (1887-1970), New York, NY, Washington, DC, and Mt. Kisco, NY, purchased from Pang Yuanji in 1916 [2]

From 1970
Freer Gallery of Art, bequeathed by Agnes E. Meyer in 1970 [3]


[1] The painting was published and illustrated in Pang Yuanji’s catalogue, Antique Famous Chinese Paintings Collected by P’ang Lai Ch’en, vol. 1 (Shanghai, Privately published by Pang Yuanji, 1916), no. 26: “Li Ti, Old Cedar and Winter Birds.”

[2] In 1916 Pang Yuanji, with the assistance of Pang Zanchen and Seaouke Yue, sent a group of paintings illustrated in Antique Famous Chinese Paintings Collected by P’ang Lai Ch’en catalogue to New York and showed them to Charles Freer. See Ingrid Larsen, “‘Don’t Send Ming or Later Pictures’: Charles Lang Freer and the First Major Collection of Chinese Painting in an American Museum,” Ars Orientalis vol. 40 (2011), p. 23. Freer made a selection of paintings for his collection and advised the Meyers and Louisine Havemeyer with their acquisitions. Freer’s copy of the 1916 Pang catalogue includes pencil annotations indicating that this painting was purchased by Agnes E. Meyer.

[3] See Deed of Gift, signed by Agnes E. Meyer’s children and dated to May 31, 1971, where the painting is listed under no. 1, copy in object file.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Pang Yuanji 1864-1949
Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer (1875-1959) and (1887-1970)


The philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) once observed that pine and cypress are the last trees to wither in winter. Consequently, these two hardy evergreens became parallel symbols of longevity in traditional China, representing the virtuous gentleman who endures adversity with fortitude.

While this painting depicts all three "friends of winter," the frigid scene is dominated by two ancient, weathered cypresses that grow on the slopes above a steep precipice. A tall stand of snowy bamboo peeps from behind some large boulders, while on the edge of the cliff at right, a bare, twisted plum tree provides a roost for several groups of small birds huddling against the cold. Various other birds are scattered throughout the painting: a pair of mandarin ducks makes an improbable nest among the icy grass in the foreground; below the first cypress, two magpies peck in the snow for food, while three of their brethren perch on the broken trunk and upper branches of the second tree. Across a vast chasm, snow-covered peaks shine whitely against the dark, wintry sky.

Landscape paintings such as this, with most of the composition on one side and large empty areas devoted to atmosphere, originated in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). The current painting is a later reworking of an old composition, which may date to that time.

Published References
  • Pang Yuanji. Tang Wu dai Song Yuan ming hua: Wuxing Pang shi cang [Antique Famous Chinese Paintings: Collected by P'ang Lai Ch'en]. Shanghai. pl. 26.
  • Thomas Lawton. Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Memorial Exhibition. Exh. cat. Washington, 1971. cat. 28, pp. 62-63.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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