Preparing the Elixir beneath a Pine

Artist: Chen Hongshou 陳洪綬 (1598-1652)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, 1651
Ink on gold paper
H x W (image): 33.5 x 27.4 cm (13 3/16 x 10 13/16 in)
Credit Line
Transfer from the United States Customs Service, Department of the Treasury
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Album, Painting

Album leaf

baimiao style, China, man, pine tree, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), tree

To 1960
Chen Rentao (1906-1968), Hong Kong, and Frank Caro, C. T. Loo & Co., New York, to 1960 [1]

From 1960 to 1979
Department of Treasury, U. S. Customs Service [2]

From 1979
Freer Gallery of Art, from October 23, 1979 [3]

[1] This object is one of a group of 88 objects (F80.104-F80.180, FSC-S-22-25 and FSC-O-11a-h) seized in 1960 by the U.S. Customs Service, Department of the Treasury, from the dealer and collector Chen Rentao, Hong Kong and Frank Caro of C. T. Loo & Co., New York. The objects were deemed to have been introduced into the commerce of the United States in violation of 19 U.S.C. 1592 (Trade with Communist China).

[2] See note 1. The object’s ownership title is based on the settlement agreement, dated November 1971, between the United States, Chen Tung Siang Wen, the executrix for Chen Rentao Estate, and Frank Caro, copy in object file. See U.S. Customs Service Memorandum, April 23, 1979 and a letter from Thadeus Rojek, Chief Counsel, Department of the Treasury, U.S. Custom Service, to Marie C. Malaro, Assistant General Counsel, Smithsonian Institution, dated November 29, 1979, copy in object file. The objects remained in the custody of the U.S. Customs Service office in New York until 1979.

[3] The object was transferred to the Freer Gallery of Art on October 23, 1979.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

U.S. Customs Service
Frank Caro 1904-1980
Chen Rentao 1906-1968


An alchemist sits under an ancient vine-draped pine tree and points to a tripod in which he is brewing the elixir of long life. Dated to the summer of 1651, this work by Chen Hongshou was the first contribution in a ten-leaf album created by several different artists to celebrate the birthdays of a father and son surnamed Zhu. Chen's painting was therefore intended as a kind of birthday card, conveying best wishes for many long and healthy years to come.

Chen Hongshou is generally considered the most important figure painter of the mid-seventeenth century. The elongated face and figure of the seated man, along with his rather odd posture, illustrate the idiosyncratic qualities that are typical of his style. Chen's works were highly valued by later contemporaries, especially those who like Chen and most of his close friends, remained emotionally attached to the Ming dynasty, which was overthrown by the Qing in 1644. Thus, while the pine tree in this painting clearly symbolizes longevity, it may also subtly praise the two men for their adherence to moral principle during difficult times.

Published References
  • 17th-Century Chinese Paintings: From the Tsao Family Collection. Los Angeles, California. p. 492, fig. 96.1.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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