Description Unrolling this handscroll from right to left in the traditional way, one would first see about half of it--a half dominated by an imperial messenger in red, bearing a tablet, followed by two halberd-bearers. A servant boy leads them onto a path between rocks and pines. A wide lake stretches in the distance, and the sun is setting. Perhaps this messenger has traveled far. Rolling and unrolling again, one then sees the open spot in a pine grove to which the servant boy is leading the messenger. Here are four old men. One plays the "qin [ch'in]," the single instrument appropriate for the scholar recluse. Two others, also sitting on fur mats, listen. Each of these three men can be said to have his pine tree, at the base of each of which grows the fungus of immortality and a cluster of sprouting bamboo, which exemplifies the virtues of a gentleman. The fourth old man appears to have left his tiger-skin mat; standing beside an aged pine--a tree whose qualities of perseverance, steadfastness, and immutability the man may nearly have attained--he glances outward from the grove in the direction of this disturbance to his existence. How aware the two recluses on the farthest left may be of an imminent change in their lives is not clear. At the edge of the painting a servant glances back at his companion, before heading off into a building. The story has been identified as that of four retired officials called back to the Imperial Court at a moment of political crisis. Retreating into isolated contemplation was always an alternative for the Chinese scholar-official; according to some, during the Yüan [Yuan] Dynasty, in the face of the foreign Mongol rulers, it was a duty. The unknown artist worked in the style of Li Gonglin [Li Kung-lin] (1044-1106), a revered scholar-painter of the Northern Song [Sung] Dynasty, whose own style of figure painting was inspired by models of many centuries earlier. The tradition is characterized by psychologically acute portraits, not infrequently of men under pine trees on which the bark is delineated by small circles. The works of an artist of the mid 14th century, Zhang Wu, are a link between Li Gonglin and this handscroll, which was probably painted in the early Ming period.
Provenance Dr. John C. Ferguson [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John C. Ferguson Collection Sale, American Art Association, New York, April 7, 1916, no. 229; Henry Walters, Baltimore, April 7, 1916, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Inscription] At end separately mounted; [Seal] At end separately mounted; [Seal] At beginning and end on painting.
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, 1916
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