Image: 41 15/16 x 9 3/4 in. (106.5 x 24.8 cm)
Overall with mounting: 75 3/4 x 14 1/8 in. (192.4 x 35.9 cm)
Overall with knobs: 75 3/4 x 15 15/16 in. (192.4 x 40.5 cm)
Purchase, Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 1983
Not on view
The plum, the first flower to appear in spring, is celebrated along with bamboo and pine as one of the Three Friends of Winter. Admired for its purity and hardiness, sending forth new shoots and delicate blossoms from seemingly lifeless branches, the plum became a symbol of survival, rejuvenation, and longevity. Here, the tight clusters of pale blossoms and buds indicate that the plum has just begun to flower.
In this work by the otherwise unknown Chinese Buddhist monk Ni Jing, both composition and brushwork derive from the renowned Yuan-dynasty plum painter Wang Mian (d. 1359). The artist has calligraphed a poetic inscription in a highly animated cursive script, in places letting the brush go almost dry before reinking. The poem reads:
Blossoms rival the moon in brightness, Hundreds of them overlapping like fragrant snowflakes. Since men of the world vie by preening in fine colors, Do not scoop up water to wash away badges of pink.
Written by Nanzhuang Chusou [Ni Jing]
—Trans. John T. Carpenter
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (4 columns in cursive script):
Blossoms compete with the moon in luminosity; All merge in white, making me suspect that snow has fragrance. Worldly men, ardently praising the loveliness of colors, Would not have scooped water to rinse off pink makeup. Written by Nanzhuang Chusou [Ni Jing].