Herons and Water Plants

Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, 1368-1644
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 99 x 43.2 cm (39 x 17 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

bird, China, heron, lotus, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644)

To 1893
Tozo Takayanagi, New York to 1893 [1]

From 1893 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Tozo Takayanagi in June 1893 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See List of Kakemono Reserved, No. 21, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s)

Takayanagi Tozo (C.L. Freer source)
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


Decorative yet realistic paintings of bird-and-flower subjects enjoyed enormous popularity at the Ming court and among privileged members of society. This style suited the contemporary taste and resembled a school of imperially sponsored painting that had been popular during the Song dynasty (960-1279), a period of great cultural blossoming. The Ming emperors intentionally recalled the Song to bolster their position as sophisticated Chinese rulers aware of and equal to the past heritage.

The style of this work compresses space so that the picture reads as a harmonious decorative pattern, yet it also offers a view of natural pond life. This style that combines ornament and naturalism is associated with the court artist  Lü Ji (ca.1420-ca.1505) and his circle. The theme of egrets relies on visual punning, or a rebus, and takes into account that the Chinese word for egret sounds like another word that means wealth through official position.

Published References
  • Thomas Lawton, Linda Merrill. Freer: a legacy of art. Washington and New York, 1993. p. 62, fig. 43.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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