A native of Suzhou, Xu Fang passed the provincial-level civil-service examination in 1642. After his father committed suicide to protest Manchu rule, Xu gave up his pursuit of public office and spent the rest of his life in self-exile on a mountain outside Suzhou.
This painting of wild orchids, fungi, and a rock can be considered a symbolic self-portrait of the artist. Orchids thrive in the wilderness, unconcerned with the bustling world that ignores their fragrance. Time may carve into the rock’s surface and chisel away its edges but cannot compromise its essential substance. Painted in late winter one year before he died, the robust fungi, treasured for their association with longevity, tell of the old man’s high spirits and optimism.