Folding fan mounted as an album leaf; ink on alum paper
7 1/16 x 20 5/16 in. (17.9 x 51.6 cm)
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986
Not on view
The world changed around Pu Ru,brother of the last emperor of China, Pu Yi, and the most talented painter among the princes of the Qing royal family,but his values remained constant. In his painting of Mi Fu (1052–1107), the Northern Song poet, politician, painter, and connoisseur, Pu pays homage to the enduring culture of China's lettered gentlemen. The magistrate Mi Fu was known as much for his outspokenness as for his refined tastes. Pu's painting recalls Mi's visit to the garden of the governor of Wuwei (present-day Anhui), where he saw a stone of uncommon presence and wonder. To pay his respects, Mi dressed in official robes, carried his hu (an official tablet used to ensure that a lesser man's breath never fell upon the emperor), and addressed the stone as "Elder Brother Rock." Others found this laughable, but Mi answered that he bowed to the stone; he did not worship it.
In Pu Ru's painting, we see Mi Fu bowing, but there is no stone. With the classic means of the literati repertory,restraint and omission,Pu Ru evokes complex resonances. Garden stones were prized as human character was prized. Their idiosyncratic features were admired, their companionship was valued, and their challenge to the viewer's imagination was esteemed. Pu's painting clearly intimates that the beauty and stature of such stones exist primarily in the mind of the beholder and that these qualities might be preserved there, even after the stone,like the Qing dynasty,has vanished.
Signature: Painted and inscribed by Xinyu Undated
Artist's inscription: When Yuanzhang [Mi Fu] was an administrator in Wuweizhun [present-day Anhui], he saw a wondrous stone in the yard of the Governor's residence. To pay his respect to it, he dressed in an official robe and carried a hu tablet. He addressed the stone as his father. When people heard this they laughed and asked him if it was tru. Mi Fu gently replied " I do not worship, I just bow down to it".
A passage from Stories of Su Shi and Mi Fu [Su Mi zhilin]
Artist's seals: 1. Calligraphy and painting by Xinyu (square, red characters) 2. Jade pot (oval red characters)
Marking: Collectors' seals: Robert Hatfield Ellsworth
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Painting: Selections from the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection," February 2, 1988–September 25, 1988.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Style and Expressionism: Modern Chinese Painting," November 4, 1989–January 14, 1990.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30, 1998–January 3, 1999.
New York. Noguchi Museum. "Museum of Stones," October 7, 2015–January 10, 2016.