Plum Branch

Artist: Yi Yuwon (Korean, 1814–1888)

Period: Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)

Date: dated 1888

Culture: Korea

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: 58 1/16 x 37 3/16 in. (147.5 x 94.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Seymour and Rogers Funds and Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 1990

Accession Number: 1990.230


Delicate plum blossoms, budding in the chill of early spring, dot the long, swerving branch and its thin off-shoots; behind, a second, smaller branch echoes its lines. This impressionistic painting is both representational and abstract. In East Asia, plum blossoms, along with bamboo, chrysanthemums, and orchids, not only represent the four seasons but also form a quartet known as the Four Gentlemen (Korean: sagunja), a symbol of the virtuous Confucian scholar.

A distinguished scholar-official who served as prime minister in 1873 under Emperor Gojong (r. 1864–1907), Yi Yuwon was also a recognized painter, poet, and calligrapher.