Twin Pines, Level Distance

Artist: Zhao Mengfu (Chinese, 1254–1322)

Period: Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Date: ca. 1310

Culture: China

Medium: Handscroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image: 10 9/16 x 42 5/16 in. (26.8 x 107.5 cm)
Overall with mounting: 10 15/16 x 25 ft. 7 11/16 in. (27.8 x 781.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Gift of The Dillon Fund, 1973

Accession Number: 1973.120.5


This spare, enigmatic scene represents a revolutionary redirection in Chinese painting. Zhao Mengfu reduces his "painted" landscape to a set of calligraphic brush conventions, with the rocks executed in "flying-white" cursive and the pines outlined in unmodulated seal script. He thus rejects illusionistic representation and relies instead on expressive brush lines to imbue his imagery with personal meaning.

Zhao underscores his commitment to this new approach by adding a title to the right of his pines and writing a long inscription on top of the distant mountains at the left side of the composition, making it clear that his painting is not merely about landscape scenery.

Despite his adherence to this new style, Zhao chooses a traditionally significant subject. In Chinese art, pine trees have long been emblems of survival. By representing them here, Zhao may be referring to his own political survival under the Mongol occupation, as well as to the endurance of Chinese culture under foreign rule.