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: Writing a Poem on a Crimson Leaf

Writing a Poem on a Crimson Leaf

Hanging scroll
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, 16th century
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 126.7 x 70 cm (49 7/8 x 27 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
Like many ancient legends, Writing a Poem on a Crimson Leaf has several versions, each with minor differences in detail. The main story takes place in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty (618907) and concerns a court lady who writes a love poem on a red leaf. She then sets it afloat on the waterway that flows out of the palace. The man who finds the red leaf writes a poem in which he echoes his own longing for love, and he sends the leaf and the poems floating back to the palace. Of course, the same court lady chances upon the leaf and cherishes its poems. Later freed from her obligations to the imperial court, the lady is allowed to marry. On her wedding night, she happily discovers that her groom is the very man who wrote a love poem on her treasured red leaf. Writing a poem on a crimson leaf became a metaphor in Chinese literature to describe a happy marriage destined by fate.

To 1917
You Xiaoxi (late 19th-early 20th century), Shanghai, to 1917 [1]

From 1917 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from You Xiaoxi 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. 1210, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[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
You Xiaoxi 游篠溪 (C.L. Freer source) (late 19th-early 20th century)
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919)
On View Location
Currently not on view
China, lovers, marriage, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), poems, woman, writing
Collection(s) Area
Chinese Art
Web Resource(s)
Google Cultural Institute

Rights Statement
Copyright with museum

The Freer|Sackler is currently closed for renovations, updates, and gallery reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Please join us for our weekend-long reopening celebration on October 14 and 15, 2017.