Twin Pines, Level Distance

Zhao Mengfu (Chinese, 1254–1322)

Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
ca. 1310
Handscroll; ink on paper
Image: 10 9/16 x 42 5/16 in. (26.8 x 107.5 cm) Overall with mounting: 10 15/16 x 25 ft. 7 11/16 in. (27.8 x 781.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Gift of The Dillon Fund, 1973
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This spare, enigmatic scene represents a revolutionary redirection in Chinese painting. Zhao Mengfu reduces his "painted" landscape to a set of calligraphic brush conventions, with the rocks executed in "flying-white" cursive and the pines outlined in unmodulated seal script. He thus rejects illusionistic representation and relies instead on expressive brush lines to imbue his imagery with personal meaning.

    Zhao underscores his commitment to this new approach by adding a title to the right of his pines and writing a long inscription on top of the distant mountains at the left side of the composition, making it clear that his painting is not merely about landscape scenery.

    Despite his adherence to this new style, Zhao chooses a traditionally significant subject. In Chinese art, pine trees have long been emblems of survival. By representing them here, Zhao may be referring to his own political survival under the Mongol occupation, as well as to the endurance of Chinese culture under foreign rule.


    Artist’s inscriptions and signature

    2 columns in semi-cursive script (undated):
    Zi’ang [Zhao Mengfu] playfully painted this Twin Pines, Level Distance.子昂戲作雙松平遠。

    6 columns in semi-cursive script (undated):
    Ever since my youth, after practicing calligraphy, I have toyed with some small paintings, but landscape is one subject that I have not been able to master. This is because I have not managed to see even one or two masterpieces by Wang Wei (701–761), the senior and junior general Li [i.e. Li Sixun (active 705–720) and Li Zhaodao (active mid-8th c.)], and Zheng Qian (active mid-8th c.) of the Tang period. As for works of the Five Dynasties masters, such as Jing Hao (active ca. 870–930), Guan Tong (active ca. 907–23), Dong Yuan (active 930s-60s), and Fan Kuan (ca. 960–ca. 1030), who succeeded one another [as leading masters], the “brush idea” [biyi] of all of them is absolutely different from the style of recent paintings. As for my own work, I dare not compare it with those of the ancient masters, but when I look at what recent painters have done, I daresay mine is a bit different. Since [Dong] Yeyun asked for a painting, I wrote this at the end, Mengfu.[1]


    Artist's seals

    Zhao shi Zi’ang 趙氏子昂
    Zhao Mengfu yin (partial) 趙孟頫印[殘]


    Yang Zai 楊載 (1271–1323), 9 columns in standard script (undated)

    As the tiny boat tries to advance upriver,
    Mighty mountain trees are suddenly swept into tumult.
    Swiftly heavy wind and rain pour through the night,
    Clapping waves against the sky – making the oars hard to control![2]
    My native home is a hut beside the great river,
    But for many years now I have lived away in the capital.
    Today it is as if a fishing pole had come into my hands,
    As I enjoy perusing this painting.
    Venerable Songxue [Zhao Mengfu] painted this landscape handscroll for Penal Associate Mr. Dong Yeyun. Composed by Yang Zai of Pucheng [in Fujian].[3] [seals]: Zai, Zhonghong fu yin, Pucheng Yang shi


    Tong Xuan 童軒 (1425–1498), 14 columns in semi-cursive script (undated):

    The Twin Pines, Pure and Distant scroll, painted and inscribed with a colophon by the respectable Zhao Wenmin [Zhao Mengfu] of Wuxing [in Zhekiang], has been acquired by Academician Suxuan [Qian Ning, died ca. 1522], who appreciates it profoundly. Suxuan’s character and family background compare closely with Wenmin’s, so, respecting the man, he loves his painting. In the precious Yuan dynasty, Wenmin attained the position of Recipient of Edicts in the Hanlin Academy through his literary accomplishment. At the time, scholars and officials admired his superiority in a dozen things; his talents were certainly not limited to painting and calligraphy. However, as a descendant of the imperial family of the past Song dynasty, he served the Yuan ruler. I suspect that his fellow scholar-officials’ opinions of him resonated with the message of the poem “Reaching Old Age with the Husband” in the Odes of Yong.[4] I wonder how Ban Gu (32–92) and Sima Qian (ca. 145–ca. 86 B.C.) would think of him.[5] Inscribed by Tong Xuan of Poyang [in Jiangxi], Assistant Surveillance Commissioner of Yunnan. [seals]: Shi’ang, Jinmen guli, Qingfeng Ting

    吳興趙文敏公所畫《雙松清遠圖》并跋語一卷,今内相素軒公得之,清玩不忍釋手。蓋公之人品門第甚類文敏,故愛其人斯愛其畫也。且文敏在前元時,以文字承旨翰林,一時士大夫稱其過扵人者凡一十二事,固不止扵書畫之妙而已。然文敏以故宋宗室之裔,委質元主,竊意當時士大夫之論,亦猶《鄘風》君子偕老之詩,不知班、馬以爲何如也。雲南按察司僉事番陽童軒跋。 [印]:士昂,金門故吏,清風亭

    Collectors’ seals

    Mu Ying 沐英 (1344–1391)
    Qianning Wang zizisunsun yongbao zhi 黔寧王子子孫孫永保之

    Yang Zun 楊遵 (jinshi 1469)
    Yang Zun zhi yin 楊遵之印
    Yang shi fashu minghua 楊氏法書名畫

    Liang Qingbiao 梁清標 (1620–1691)
    Liang Qingbiao yin 梁清標印
    Cangyanzi Liang Qingbiao Yuli shi yinzhang 蒼巌子梁清標玉立氏印章
    Guan qi dalue 觀其大略

    An Qi 安岐 (1683–after 1742)
    An shi Yizhou shuhua zhi zhang 安氏儀周書畫之章
    Chaoxian ren 朝鮮人
    An Qi zhi yin 安岐之印
    An Yizhou jia zhencang 安儀周家珍藏
    Guxiang Shuwu 古香書屋

    Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1736–95)
    Qianlong yulan zhi bao 乾隆御覽之寳
    Qianlong jianshang 乾隆鑑賞
    Shiqu baoji 石渠寳笈
    Yi zisun 宜子孫
    Sanxi Tang jingjian xi 三希堂精鋻璽
    Miao buke yan 妙不可言

    Zaizhi 載治 (active mid-19th c.)
    Zaizhi zhi yin 載治之印
    Mi Jin Zhai yinzhang 秘晉齋印章
    Mi Jin Zhai yin 秘晉齋印

    Kuai Shoushu 蒯壽樞 (active early-20th c.)
    Kuai Shoushu jia zhencang 蒯壽樞家珍藏
    Liqing fujun yiwu 禮卿府君遺物

    Tan Jing 譚敬 (1911–1991)
    Tan shi Ouzhai shuhua zhi zhang 譚氏區齋書畫之章
    He’an fu 和庵父
    Tan Jing siyin 譚敬私印
    Ouzhai zhencang 區齋珍藏
    Yue ren Tan Jing yin 粵人譚敬印
    He’an jianding zhenji 和庵鑑定真跡

    Wang Jiqian 王季遷 (C. C. Wang, 1907–2003)
    Wang Jiqian shi shending zhenji 王季遷氏審定真跡
    Jiqian xinshang 季遷心賞
    Zhenze Wang shi Baowu Tang tushu ji 震澤王氏寶武堂圖書記
    Wang Jiqian haiwai suojian mingji 王季遷海外所見名跡
    Ceng gui Zhuli Guan 曾歸竹里館


    Liang Yong zhi yin 梁雝之印
    Quanwu suqi 全無俗氣
    Guanmian peiyu 冠冕珮玉
    Chang yi zisun 長宜子孫
    Qingbai zhenwan 清白珍玩
    Chaofan juesu 超凡絕俗
    Bu guoyan yin 誧過眼印
    Zisun shi bao 子孫世保

    1. Translation from Shen C. Y. Fu et al., Traces of the Brush: Studies in Chinese Calligraphy. Exhibition catalogue. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977, cat. no. 13, p. 250. Modified.
    2. Translation from Richard M. Barnhart, Along the Border of Heaven: Song and Yuan Paintings from the C. C. Wang Family Collection. Exhibition catalogue. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983, p. 120.
    3. Translation by Maxwell K. Hearn.
    4. The Odes of Yong is part of the “Odes” section in the Book of Poetry (Shi jing). This poem concerns a beautiful imperial consort in want of virtue.
    5. Ban Gu and Sima Qian were ancient historians of high prestige. The former compiled the History of the Han Dynasty (Han shu), while the latter wrote the Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji).

  • See also