Crafted as carefully as the regulated verse of a Tang dynasty quatrain, Ma Yuan's Viewing Plum Blossoms by Moonlight is a visual poem evoking a complex sense of time, place, and mood. The browns and blacks in the trees and rocks contrast with the light grayish hues of the cliff and mountain to suggest the mist-filled, moonlit atmosphere of an early spring evening. The thatch roof of a pavilion identifies the place as a garden setting. The white-robed gentleman, framed by the dark angular forms of the landscape, perfectly counterbalances the moon in its setting of limitless space. Recalling a yin-yang cosmic diagram with its implication of positive within negative, light within dark, solid within void, the painting may be read as an emblem of man's dual nature: tied to the physical world, man's spirit is not contained by it but, like the plum, reaches upward to partake of the infinite.
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南宋 馬遠 月下賞梅圖 團扇
Title:Viewing plum blossoms by moonlight
Artist:Ma Yuan (Chinese, active ca. 1190–1225)
Period:Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279)
Date:early 13th century
Medium:Fan mounted as an album leaf; ink and color on silk
Credit Line:Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., in honor of Alfreda Murck, 1986
Inscription: Artist's signature (2 characters in standard script)
Gu Luofu顧洛阜 (John M. Crawford, Jr., 1913–1988) Gu Luofu 顧洛阜 Hanguang Ge 漢光閣
John M. Crawford Jr. American, New York (until 1986; donated to MMA)
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr.," June 17, 1965–August 1, 1965.
New York. China House Gallery. "Selections of Chinese Art from Private Collections in the Metropolitan Area," November 15, 1966–February 15, 1967.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Peach Blossom Spring," November 21, 1983–June 3, 1984.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The New Chinese Galleries: An Inaugural Installation," 1997.
New York. China Institute in America. "The Resonance of the Qin in Far Eastern Art," September 16, 1999–December 12, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," August 28, 2004–February 20, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Bridging East and West: The Chinese Diaspora and Lin Yutang," September 15, 2007–February 10, 2008.
Shanghai Museum. "Masterpieces of Chinese Tang, Song and Yuan Paintings from America," November 3, 2012–January 3, 2013.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Art of the Chinese Album," September 6, 2014–March 29, 2015.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from The Met Collection (Rotation One)," October 31, 2015–October 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Up Close," January 25, 2020–June 27, 2021.
Chō Dai-sen 張大千. Taifudo meiseki 大風堂名蹟 (Masterpieces from the collection of the Dafeng Tang Studio) Kyoto: Benrido, 1955–56, vol. 4, pl. 11.
Smith, Bradley, and Wan-go Weng. China: A History in Art. New York: Harper & Row, [1972?], p. 179.
Weng, Wan-go, and Thomas Lawton. Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: A Pictorial Survey: 69 Fine Examples from the John Crawford, Jr. Collection. New York: Dover Publications, 1978, pp. xxxi, 31, cat. no.13.
Suzuki Kei 鈴木敬, ed. Chûgoku kaiga sogo zuroku: Daiikan, Amerika-Kanada Hen 中國繪畫總合圖錄: 第一卷 アメリカ - カナダ 編 (Comprehensive illustrated catalog of Chinese paintings: vol. 1 American and Canadian collections) Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1982, p. 108, cat. no. A15-052.
Barnhart, Richard M. Along the Border of Heaven: Sung and Yüan Paintings from the C. C. Wang Family Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 12, 86–87, fig. 34.
Shih Shou-ch'ien, Maxwell K. Hearn, and Alfreda Murck. The John M. Crawford, Jr., Collection of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Checklist. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, p. 17, cat. no. 18.
Fong, Wen C. Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p. 270, pl. 50.
Bickford, Maggie. Ink Plum: The Making of a Chinese Scholar-Painting Genre. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 51, 70, 106, 156, 161, pl. 10.
Lee, Hui-shu. Exquisite Moments: West Lake & Southern Song Art. Exh. cat. New York: China Institute in America, 2001, p. 73, cat. no. 6.
Vanderstappen, Harrie A. The Landscape Painting of China: Musings of a Journeyman. Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 2014, p. 109, pl. 86.
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