Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor, 202.633.0523
Public only: 202.633.1000

February 2, 2005

The Freer Gallery of Art presents “Boating on a River” on Feb. 12. The exhibition of 28 12th- to 20th-century paintings and calligraphy from the gallery’s collection was inspired by the launch 600 years ago of the largest fleet of wooden ships ever built. Assembled by a Chinese Muslim eunuch and courtier named Zheng He (1371–1435), this massive “treasure fleet” of ships—each thought to have been approximately 400 feet long—sailed for more than 28 years, reaching as far as the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa, establishing diplomatic and trading contacts and acquiring exotic foreign luxury objects for the Ming emperor. The exhibition runs through Aug. 14.

Chinese literati often used boats as a metaphoric device to represent a yearning for an ideal scholarly life. Works on view include examples of Chinese painting and calligraphy featuring well-known scenes from Chinese literature, such as the mystical Nymph of the Luo River, the melancholy Lute Song, and the philosophical Red Cliff, among others.

Also featured are works depicting boats in the daily lives of scholars and fishermen, a section devoted to the canopied boats of the gentry class, and a 17th-century lacquer box with the image of a boat on its lid. A Ming dynasty hand scroll, depicting various kinds of fish, flanked by two fish-themed works of calligraphy, will also be displayed in the adjacent east corridor.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily, except Wednesdays and public holidays and are subject to docent availability. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the special, exhibition-related section of the galleries’ Web site at