male figure seated below two pine trees on rocky embankment overlooking choppy water, grasses

Scholar Beneath Pines on Riverbank, early 14th century

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2018 Accession Highlight

A scholar in official robes relaxes and contemplates on the bank of a river. A pair of pine trees provides dramatic contrast to the simple orchids and grasses that spring from the ground on which he sits. During China’s Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), the period of foreign domination by the central Asian Mongols, this type of imagery provided imaginative psychic release for Chinese literati, who experienced political and social tensions under foreign rule. This painting, attributed to the famous scholar and painter Zhao Mengfu, represents an early example of this type of imagery. The tranquil scenery and natural qualities of mountains and water serve as a metaphor for the perfect gentleman, who manifests endurance, stability, sharpness of mind, and the flexibility to adapt in the best way to a changing environment.

This hanging scroll has been in a Japanese collection since at least the early 1800s. Japanese collectors have always believed it was painted by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), widely regarded as one of the greatest painters and calligraphers of his time. Scholar beneath Pines on Riverbank, created in the early 1300s, represents one of the earliest examples of images of scholars in contemplation by flowing water.

male figure seated below two pine trees on rocky embankment overlooking choppy water, grasses