Plum, Bamboo, and Rock

Artist: Xu Beihong (Chinese, 1895–1953)

Period: Republic period

Date: dated 1942

Culture: China

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 36 1/8 x 11 7/8 in. (91.8 x 30.2 cm)
Overall with mounting: 92 3/4 x 19 5/8 in. (235.6 x 49.8 cm)
Overall with knobs: 92 3/4 x 22 3/8 in. (235.6 x 56.8 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: The Lin Yutang Family Collection, Gift of Richard M. Lai, Jill Lai Miller, and Larry C. Lai, in memory of Taiyi Lin Lai, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.509.13


This painting testifies to Xu Beihong's aspiration to revitalize Chinese painting with a new experimental eclecticism. The bamboo is meticulously outlined, then filled with colored wash in the refined, descriptive style of Song dynasty (960–1279) court painting, which Xu admired. But a roughly outlined ochre rock is virtually flat, while the patches of ink wash that texture the adjacent lower tree trunk arbitrarily extend beyond its contours. Such perfunctory modes of execution were often criticized by Xu as mannerisms afflicting the literati painting tradition. But in this case, Xu's incongruous mix of brush methods enhances the painting's appeal by shattering conventional expectations. The plum blossoms, rendered as daubs of white pigment with blue cores, represent an audacious departure from their traditional rendering in either ink outlines or pale color washes. The blue, surprising at first glance, realistically renders the shadows of intensely white objects; aesthetically it echoes the blue-green bamboo. The white blossoms, indistinct against the blank paper, faithfully capture the optical impression of white plum blossoms in a bleak wintry landscape. The inscribed poem reads:

With its shadow it rests in the empty mountain;
How swiftly the year has moved toward an end!
The bright moon is chilly throughout the night;
The subtle fragrance lingers in the vastness.

(trans. by Shi-yee Liu)