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Two Riders Searching for Plum Blossoms
16th century

Xia Gui , (Chinese, active ca. 1195-1230)
Ming dynasty

Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk
H: 136.7 W: 71.3 cm
China

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1919.141

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This chilly winter scene focuses on a pair of riders and their servants traveling up a mountain trail, where they have come upon a blossoming plum tree. A huge, almost cylindrical rock leans above them, while the looming spires of distant snow- covered peaks project above the group of large buildings, perhaps a temple complex, that might have been their starting place. In paintings such as this, it is difficult to know if the travelers have set out intentionally to find plum blossoms or have simply encountered them along the road.

This unsigned work is a typical example of Zhe School painting, which flourished during the early to mid-Ming dynasty (1368–1644) in the area of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, the former imperial capital of the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). With the Zhe School revival of Song styles in the early Ming dynasty, monumental ink-landscape paintings with heavily contoured and sculpted mountain forms became more common, while the expressive possibilities of brushwork and the evocation of mood generally took precedence over the technical niceties of execution. In the present painting, the main trunk of the plum tree has been trimmed along the right edge, leaving only a few limbs and twigs to whet the viewer's imagination.