Red Plum Blossoms

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Artist: Attributed to Yao Shou (1423-1495)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, late 15th century
Ink and color on paper
H x W (image): 31.9 × 112.8 cm (12 9/16 × 44 7/16 in)
Credit Line
Transfer from the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


China, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), plum blossom
Provenance research underway.

Yao Shou was a painter, calligrapher, and poet. After passing the civil service examinations in 1464, he served in several minor governmental positions. Upon retiring in 1469 to his home in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, he devoted the rest of his life to scholarly and artistic pursuits.

To the left of the painted image, the handscroll contains eleven inscriptions, ten of which are poems by Yao Shou and other fifteenth-century poets and calligraphers composed on the theme of the flowering plum tree. Yao Shou's poem begins: "I planted a single plum tree in front of my veranda / Red jade fills its branches as the flowers start to bloom." Most of the other poems, two of which are displayed, were written and attached to the scroll at a later time.

This vibrant scroll of late-winter-blossoming plum flowers is perplexing in terms of authenticity. It is on old paper appropriate for a Ming dynasty date and its style is possible for the period. The work bears seals with a name used by the artist, Yao Shou, and seals seemingly indicating it had, in the eighteenth century, belonged to the imperial art collection. Twentieth-century connoisseur and dealer J. D. Chen noted words to the effect that it is a good work by Yao Shou, but that the artist was not known for the subject of plum flowers.

Given the rarity of the subject in the artist’s oeuvre, there are few paintings by Yao by which to judge this work. A number of oddities, however, including the awkward placement of the artist’s seals and the generally inferior quality of the imperial seals, strongly suggest the scroll is not what it purports to be. Then, when was it executed? Since it is on old paper, could it have been an unsigned Ming painting to which a modern dealer added forged seals? Or is it a more recent work?

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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