Born into a prominent branch of the Qing imperial family, artist Pu Ru (1896–1963) was a great-grandson of the Daoguang emperor. He was also a grandson of the wealthy and influential imperial prince Yixin, Prince Gong, an important art collector. At age twelve, Pu Ru was a leading candidate to succeed the Guangxu emperor. Instead, the all-powerful Empress Dowager Cixi selected his three-year-old cousin Pu Yi, who became the last emperor of the Qing dynasty.
Shortly after the founding of the republic in early 1912, Pu Ru moved with his mother and brother to a suburban Buddhist monastery in the Western Hills outside the capital. He immersed himself in poetry, calligraphy, and painting. In 1924 Pu Ru returned to the city, holding his first one-man exhibition the following year and emerging onto the vibrant Beijing art scene. In 1934 he became a professor of traditional painting at the Beiping National Art College, beginning his thirty-year career as a painting teacher.
Following the Japanese occupation of the region, in August 1939 Pu Ru moved to the old imperial Summer Palace. Renting a compound beside Kunming Lake, he spent the war years claiming illness and refusing to serve in the government. Pu Ru fled to Taiwan in 1949, where he took up teaching again at Taiwan Normal University and tutored numerous private students until his demise in 1963.
Pu Ru was adept in all major styles and genres of traditional Chinese painting, including landscape, figure painting, and bird-and-flower painting. Generally he opted for a carefully balanced composition, a tasteful combination of spontaneous and meticulous brushwork, and a simple, harmonious palette. Thematically, he often chose to depict a recluse or gentleman in retirement—as in this work, in which a lone robed scholar with a walking stick pauses under an arching pine to observe the waterfall crashing into the chasm at his feet.
At upper left, Pu Ru inscribed the following couplet in four columns of running script:
Chanting a poem while the pine needles fall / As I lean on my staff the white clouds come.
Writing an old verse at my chalet on the lake, [signed:] Xinyu
The “chalet on the lake” refers to Pu Ru’s time living by Kunming Lake, which helps date the painting to the 1940s. He signed the work with his courtesy name, Xinyu, followed by two seals: a square relief seal with the text “Jiu wangsun”『舊王孫』 (scion of a former prince), and a square intaglio seal carved with three mythical creatures and his name, Pu Ru『溥儒』.