In the early Yuan period, when the ruling Mongols curtailed the employment of Chinese scholar-officials, the theme of the groom and horse—one associated with the legendary figure of Bole, whose ability to judge horses had become a metaphor for the recruitment of able government officials—became a symbolic plea for the proper use of scholarly talent. Zhao Mengfu painted this work for the high-ranking Surveillance Commissioner Feiqing, who may have been a government recruiter. Executed in early 1296, shortly after Zhao withdrew from civil service, the sensitively rendered groom may be a self-portrait.
The striking geometry of the composition, made up of a series of prominent arcs in the figures of the horse and groom, and framed by the level ground line and vertical inscription, appears to have been constructed with a compass and square. The Chinese term "compass-square" (guiju) means "regulation" or "order." Thus, the painting may also be read as a metaphor for good government and, by extension, a measure of the artist's moral rectitude.
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元 趙孟頫 趙雍 趙麟 吳興趙氏三世人馬圖 卷
Title:Grooms and horses
Artist:Zhao Mengfu (Chinese, 1254–1322)
Artist: Zhao Yong (Chinese, 1289–after 1360)
Artist: Zhao Lin (Chinese, active second half of the 14th century)
Period:Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
Date:dated 1296 and 1359
Medium:Handscroll; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image: 11 7/8 x 70 1/8 in. (30.2 x 178.1 cm) Overall with mounting: 12 1/4 in. x 29 ft. 2 1/2 in. (31.1 x 890.3 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988
Inscription: Artists’ inscriptions and signatures
Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫, 2 columns in standard script, dated 1296:
On the tenth of the first lunar month in the second year of the Yuanzhen reign era [February 11, 1296] I painted this Groom and Horse for Surveillance Commissioner Feiqing’s pure enjoyment. Inscribed by Zhao Mengfu of Wuxing [in Zhejiang].
元貞二年正月十日作 《人馬圖》 以奉飛卿廉訪清玩。吴興趙孟頫題。
Zhao Yong 趙雍, 6 columns in standard script, dated 1359:
In autumn, the eighth lunar month, of the nineteenth year in the yihai year of the Zhizheng reign era [August–September, 1359] I was staying in Wulin [present-day Hangzhou]. Han Jieshi came to me bringing with him a painting of a man and a horse by my late father, the Minister. He told me that Xie Boli, Associate Prefect of Songjiang, sent him to show the picture and ask me to do a painting of the same subject as a sequel to it. I viewed it respectfully with mingled feelings of sorrow and joy and could not put it down. Although I am not personally acquainted with Boli, since I admire his lofty spirit, I painted this with profound emotion and give it to Jieshi to forward to him. Written by Zhao Yong.
Zhao Lin 趙麟, 7 columns in standard script, dated 1359:
Xie Boli of Yunjian [present-day Songjiang, Jiangsu] for some time owned the painting Man and Horse by my late grandfather, the Duke of Wei, and has had it mounted on a handscroll. Later, at his request my father also executed a painting on the following part of the scroll and now he makes the request of me. May I venture to ask, is it not that he covetously desires works handed down by all three generations of my family? Unless one is most enthusiastic about [art works] of merit, no one would be so attentive to such things. So finally, without declining, I consented to do it. On the fifteenth of the tenth lunar month in the yihai year of the Zhizheng reign era [November 6, 1359], written by Zhao Lin, Gentleman for Managing Affairs and Document Examiner of the Provincial Government of Jiang and Zhe Districts.
Artist unknown, 1 column in standard script, undated:
Grooms and Horses by three generations of the Zhao Family of Wuxing
1. Hu Cheng 胡誠 (active early 15th c.), 5 columns in standard script, dated 1405; 3 seals:
Wang Jun, whose style name is Xihe, of Qingjiang [in Jiangsu] brought Grooms and Horses, a painting by the three generations of Songxue Zhai [Zhao Mengfu] in his collection, to show me at his leisure. I thus had the chance to appreciate the beauty of the former dynasty’s writings and the elegance of its artistic transmission, which is rare from past to present. The Book of Chu says: “The state of Chu has no treasure; it only has virtue as its treasure.” Xiho cherishes this scroll as a family treasure; he is a man of virtue too. I return it with great respect. Treasure it! Treasure it! On the twentieth of the third lunar month in the yiyou year, the third of the Yongle reign era [April 18, 1405], Hu Cheng, a former Advanced Scholar (jinshi), respectfully wrote. [Seals]: Haiwu Daoren, Zichi yinzhang, Shentong shijia
2. Shen Danian 沈大年 (active early 15th c.), 19 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1403; 2 seals:
Master Zhao of Wuxing was respected in the former dynasty for his literary and political accomplishments. At his leisure he delighted himself with brush and ink. The refinement of his calligraphy and painting and the magic of his brushwork, therefore, were among the best under heaven. And his son and grandson were able to continue his aspiration. Mr. Wang Xihe of Qingjiang brought Grooms and Horses, a painting by the three generations of the [Zhao] family in his collection, to show me. Master Ziang [Zhao Mengfu] was the patriarch, Master Zhongmu [Zhao Yong] was the son, and Master Yanjing [Zhao Lin] was the grandson. Seeing them look ahead in attendance and observe the hierarchical order of seniority with deep familial affection, one understands that when the worthies gather their thought to move their brush, even the minor details of a painting confirm to the principles of cosmic order and humanity. When later generations spread out the scroll, filial piety will always fill their mind. In addition, the horses have sinewy tendons, yellowish knees, angular heads, and solid hoofs. Their eyes, in the shape of suspended bells, flash purplish lightening. They are so exquisite and beautiful. Their accessories seem to clank; their eyes seem to glare. They appear ready to fly, solid as they are. They deserve the emperor’s stable; the chariots’ bells ring [as they move]. Bole (7th c. B.C.) would not have needed Jiufang Gao (7th c. B.C.) to discern their [superiority]. Xihe is born of an illustrious family, always keen on upholding the principle of propriety. More and more elders of the community come to sing his praises. He is like a steed of natural virtue that is also well provided for. In the future when he enters the emperor’s stable and makes the chariot’s bells ring, I will verify his achievement against this painting. Having viewed this scroll, I respectfully wrote after it. On the fifth of the eleventh lunar month in the winter of the first year of the Yongle reign era [November 19, 1403] Assistant Gentleman for Ceremonial Service and Confucian School Instructor of the Linjiang Prefecture [in Jiangxi] Shen Danian of Qiantang [in Zhejiang] wrote. [Seals]: Shen shi Yuanshou, Qiantang shijia
3. Chen An 陳安 (active early 15th c.), 12 columns in standard script, undated; 4 seals:
The three generations of the Zhao family painted the Grooms and Horses, Each brush stroke of which is worth a thousand pieces of gold now. Where did Mr. Wang get this painting? From Mr. Xie, Vice Magistrate of Songjiang [in Jiangsu], so it was said. Look at the first painting, which reflects great talent. A descendant of the dragon-horse from the Wowa Lake [in Gansu], it has manes like dark jade. Facing the menial standing by, Its four snowy hoofs chill like the frigid sky. Surveillance Commissioner Feiqing used to have it for enjoyment; Mengfu’s lovely work will last a thousand years. The brushwork of his son, Yong, and grandson, Lin, is even more refined. The two horses are no inferior to Han Gan’s (active ca. 742–56). The former is snow white with continuous coin patterns, Whose two calves resemble cut jade and the other two look misty. The latter, peach-colored with raindrop spots, Has distinct white forehead and unique muscles and bone structure. Two extraordinary creatures in leisurely manners, Just like those paraded in the emperor’s stable. There are innumerable genuine dragon-horses in the world. Which of them can compete with what is seen here? Ah! Everyone loves marvelous paintings, Not just the nobles and the powerful. I have finished inscribing my well-wishing for you. May your sons and grandsons keep it forever! Chen An [Seals]: Chushan, Chungong tushu, Rongtai yaqu, Danzhai
4. Zou Hui 鄒誨 (active early 15th c.), 10 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 3 seals:
Don’t you see, Sir, Zhao Mengfu of Wuxing is unique in the fields of art and literature. In the past he painted the horse with his mind, Which, with bristly manes on a curved body, seems about to run wild. The brushwork of his wonderful son was even better; The image he drew far surpassed the steeds from the Wowa Lake. Its angular, sharp ears resemble a pair of bamboo leaves; Repeated circular patterns decorated its motley hair. How fortunate that he had an outstanding grandson to continue the tradition; One swifter steed was added to the scroll. Covered with peach-blossom-spots all over, It amazes people with its marvelous form. [The painting’s] awesome loftiness is beyond reach, Remaining in the world for over a hundred years. Today [Wang] Jun showed me this scroll. Spreading it out for appreciation by my window, I smile with joy. People should not think that unknown horses Will always be yoked to salt carts. Upon encountering someone like Jiufang Gao, They will be worth over a thousand pieces of gold with his approval. Zou Hui [Seals]: Qiuxun, Panlin fengyue, Feng? Ge
5. Shanzhu 善住 (active early 15th c.), 6 columns in standard script, undated; 3 seals:
The three generations of the Duke of Wei [Zhao Mengfu] painted men-attended horses Like [the famous] Purple Swallow, Black/white Patches, and White Nose. Decorated with golden head-gears, they approach their stables; Their hoofs stir jade-like [grass] and trample fallen flowers. The grooms seem to come from somewhere beyond the desert; The divine-spirited steeds look no different from those from the Wowa Lake. Their images entered the painting and endured long in the world. Aren’t they worth being presented to the imperial family? Monk Shanzhu of Qingjiang [Seals]: Banxian, Songyun Daozhe, Yun yue shi tong
6. Liu Yue 劉嶽 (jinshi degree, 1414), 3 columns in semi-cursive script, undated:
The images of the divine-spirited steeds from Lake Wowa Are seldom seen in the world. May this painting by the three generations of the Zhao family Be preserved by Mr. Wang to last forever. Liu Yue, Advanced Scholar (jinshi) of the jiawu year 
渥洼神駿姿，天下不常有。 趙氏三代圖，王公存無朽。 甲午進士劉嶽
7. Li Jugong 李居恭 (active early 15th c.), 13 columns in cursive script, undated; 3 seals:
A great horse is not valued for its strength, but for its virtue. That is why a great horse is indeed like a gentleman. Tuizhi’s [Han Yu, 768–824] remarks on horses in his “Miscellaneous Essays” reveal profound thought. The Duke of Wei from Wuxing [Zhao Mengfu] had no rival in literary achievement. Though he was skilled at painting, it was not an important pursuit. The reason why he once painted Groom and Horse for Surveillance Commissioner Feiqing must be that Feiqing knew horses well too. The reason why Vice Magistrate Xie Boli, having kept it in his collection for several years, asked the Duke’s son, Yong, and grandson, Lin, to paint in succession must be that Boli was a horse-lover too. I came to Qingjiang to take an editorial position. Mr. Wang Xihe purchased this scroll and showed it to me. I appreciated it for a long while, feeling as if they were real great horses. How could Xihe have done this, had he not cherished elegant things deeply! Ah! As for those horse-loving gentlemen, I know they will certainly be loved themselves. Li Zhugong of Luling [present-day Ji’an, Jiangxi Province] [Seals]: Mengsheng, Li shi Jugong, Zhexuan
8. Yuan Heng 袁衡 (active early 15th c.), 22 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1425; 3 seals:
The Grooms and Horses painted by the three generations [of the Zhao Family], acquired by Mr. Wang Xihe living in east Lincheng, used to be in the collection of Vice Magistrate of Yunjian [present-day Songjiang, near Shanghai] Xie Boli. The first section was by Academician Ziang [Zhao Mengfu], which rivals Han Gan’s work. The second one painted by his son, Zhao Yong, attests to the transmission of brushwork. The third by his grandson, Zhao Lin, was especially marvelous. Ah! Despite their different forms, the three horses share the same virtue. Despite their different appearances, the three men are all grooms. They come out of the emperor’s stable and run freely in the wilderness. Neither fettered nor exhausted, they fulfill their nature. All the viewers in the world are amazed, saying that the first one chases the wind and lightening, the second one’s divine spirit surpasses all the others, the last one covers a thousand miles for one gallop, and they are all superior horses. It is indeed so. But do they know about the subtlety of the human mind? Those who paint horses well are not [professional] painters, but dignitaries of the upper class. Although they only play with ink and brush, they all attain an understanding of their subject first, and then respond to it with their hands. Without being particular to hair colors, their portrayals naturally embody the horses’ spirit. Painters, on the other hand, are particular to hair colors. Their paintings, while capturing certain aspects, always lose the others. They are good at a few things, but always weak in handling the others. How can they stand a comparison? Moreover, the father painted it first, followed by his son and grandson. The continuous transmission from fathers to sons is rarely seen in a thousand years. Ah! The transmission of this scroll began with Boli and continued to Xihe, who made [its extraordinariness] manifest. Three horses may symbolize the rank of Three Dukes. Their descendants must someday attain the rank of Three Dukes. Treasure it dearly! It is an omen pointing to the future. I inscribed this with delight. Written on the first of the ninth lunar month in the autumn of the first year of the Hongxi reign era [October 12, 1425] by Confucian School Instructor in the Tribal Office of Yuanjiang in Yunnan Yuan Heng from the same town. [Seals]: Jigu zhi xue, Bi bu zaohua, Zhu shen chu
There are many families which maintained their artistic tradition for three generations, such as the senior and the junior General Li [Li Sixun, active ca. 705 20, and his son Li Zhaodao, active mid-8th c.], the Ma family [Ma Yuan, active ca. 1190-1230, and his son Ma Lin, ca. 1180-after 1256], and the Mi family [Mi Fu, 1052-1107, and his son Mi Youren, 1074-1151]. However, it is nothing but brush and ink. What is more precious is the uninterrupted transmission of moral value and literary achievement from father to son and from grandfather to grandson. This is what I expect to see from Shenweng, whose late father’s posthumous title was Zhonglie. This is what I expect to see from Shenweng. Written by Hongshou at the request of Shenweng.  [Seals]: Chen Hongshou yin, Zhanghou fu
Qing Emperor Xuantong 清帝宣統 (r. 1909–1911) Xuantong yulan zhi bao 宣統御覽之寶 Xuantong jianshang 宣統鑑賞 Wuyi Zhai jingjian xi 無逸齋精鑑璽
Zhu Pu 朱朴 (1900–?) Zhu Xingzhai shuhua ji 朱省齋書畫記 Xingzhai 省齋 Wan zhi shuhua zhen youyi, que hui suiyue lai wuduo 晚知書畫真有益，卻悔嵗月來無多 Liangxi Zhu shi Xingzhai zhencang shuhua yi n梁溪朱氏省齋珍藏書畫印
Zhang Daqian 張大千 (1899–1983) Jihai yihou suode 己亥以後所得 Bufu guren gao houren 不負古人告後人 Nanbeidongxi zhiyou xiangsui wu bieli 南北東西只有相隨無別離 Bieshi rongyi 別時容易 Daqian xi 大千鈢 Ni yan 昵燕 Qiu tu bao gurou qing 球圖寶骨肉情 Diguo zhi fu 敵國之富 Daqian 大千 Daqian haofa 大千豪髮 Zhang Yuan 張爰
Xu Wenbo 徐雯波 (b. ca. 1927–?) Hongbin Tang ji 鴻繽堂記 Xu shi xiaoyin 徐氏小印
Gu Luofu 顧洛阜 (John M. Crawford, Jr., 1913–1988) Hanguang Ge Zhu Gu Luofu jiancang Zhongguo gudai shuhua zhi zhang 漢光閣主顧洛阜鑑藏中國古代書畫之章 Hanguang Ge 漢光閣 Gu Luofu 顧洛阜
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John M. Crawford Jr. American, New York (by 1962–1988; donated to MMA)
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