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: Searching for Plum Blossoms While Riding a Donkey

Searching for Plum Blossoms While Riding a Donkey

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)
Artist: Probably by Zhou Chen (ca.1450-ca.1535), Formerly attributed to Zhang Xunli (act. late 12th century)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, early 16th century
Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 159.3 x 84.4 cm (62 11/16 x 33 1/4 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On the left side of the painting, a man appears riding a donkey along a lakeside trail. Bundled against the cold and accompanied by a servant carrying his zither (qin), the man is making a day excursion, which started perhaps from the rustic houses nestled snugly behind him at the base of towering mountains. Passing the first plum tree on the trail, he heads toward a nearby promontory, where an open-sided, thatched pavilion awaits, shaded by two large pines and other plum trees in bloom. Searching for plum blossoms first appeared as an important theme in Chinese painting during the Song dynasty (960–1279), and numerous accounts confirm that it was a common seasonal practice for scholars to make forays into the mountains to gather plum blossoms and compose poetry about their ephemeral, pristine beauty.

The left side of the painting has been trimmed, obscuring the thematic importance of the rider and perhaps removing the artist's signature. Although this work is currently unsigned, the heavy outlines of the branches and tree trunks, along with other details, such as the face of the rider and the decisive brushwork of the rock and mountain formations, show all the stylistic hallmarks of the professional artist Zhou Chen, an early exponent of the Wu School, which was centered during the middle Ming dynasty (1368–1644) in Zhou's native city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

To 1917
Lee Van Ching (late 19th-early 20th century), Shanghai, to 1917 [1]

From 1917 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Lee Van Ching, in New York, in 1917 [2]

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


[1] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1154, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. See also, Voucher No. 18, December 1916.

[2] See note 1.

[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
Lee Van Ching 李文卿 (C.L. Freer source) (ca. 1869 - 1931)
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919)
On View Location
Currently not on view
China, donkey, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), plum blossom
Collection(s) Area
Chinese Art
Web Resource(s)
Google Cultural Institute

Rights Statement
Copyright with museum

As renovation work continues in the Freer Gallery, the Sackler Gallery also will close on July 10, 2017. This museum-wide closure will allow us to completely reinstall our exhibitions and revitalize features to improve your visit. Both spaces will reopen on October 14, 2017, when we will welcome the public back to the Freer|Sackler: two galleries, one destination. For your safety, all visitors will have their bags checked. See the complete list of restricted items and bag sizes.