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: Birds, Plum Blossoms, and Bamboo in Winter

Birds, Plum Blossoms, and Bamboo in Winter

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)
Artist: Formerly attributed to Ma Lin (active early to mid-13th century)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, 16th century
Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk
165.9 x 106.0 cm
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
Set among a few scattered stems of snow-dusted bamboo, a large flowering plum tree is the main focus of this painting. The plum generally blooms around the Chinese lunar new year in mid- to late January, when most other vegetation lies dormant. All at once, blossoms sprout from supple shoots along the dark, leafless branches, signaling the imminent arrival of spring. Though its delicate flowers survive only briefly in the harshness of winter, the tree may live for many years, its limbs and trunk slowly growing into oddly configured gnarls and angles.

In Chinese tradition, plum blossoms came to symbolize purity of character, courage in the face of adversity, the transience of beauty, and the rebirth of hope. From early times, poets in China played off these various associations and the blossoming plum gradually evolved into a favorite metaphor for the impoverished scholar and recluse from society. In times of turbulence and uncertainty, it was also used as an emblem of the nation as a whole.

A spurious signature of the thirteenth-century court painter Ma Lin has been added on the lower trunk of the plum tree, while the inscription in the upper right corner, ostensibly by the late-Ming calligrapher Wang Duo (1592–1652), is also a forgery. This is most likely a work by a sixteenth-century painter associated with the Ming dynasty court.

To 1916
P'ang Lai Ch'en (Pang Yuanji), (1864-1949), Shanghai, China, to 1916 [1]

From 1916 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from P'ang Lai Ch'en, in New York, in 1916 [2]

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


[1] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1136, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. See also, P'ang Catalogue: Antique Famous Chinese Paintings Collected by P'ang Lai Ch'en, vol. 1, no. 50. This object exhibits seals, colophons, or inscriptions that could provide additional information regarding the object’s history; see Curatorial Remarks in the object record for further details.

[2] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1119, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[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.

Former owner
C.L. Freer source: Pang Yuanji 龐元濟 (1864-1949)
On View Location
Currently not on view
China, flower, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), plum blossom, snow, tree
Collection(s) Area
Chinese Art
Web Resource(s)
Google Cultural Institute

Rights Statement
Copyright with museum

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