Inscribed by the artist and by Gu Yuankui (juren degree, 1744); Yinxi (1711–1758); Zhu Wenzhen (1718–ca. 1778); and Cheng Duo (act. early-mid-18th century) Inspired by the viewing of a friend's orchids in full bloom, Zheng Xie painted two plants admired by Chinese literati: the orchid, symbol of loyalty and unappreciated virtue, and the bamboo, symbol of the superior man who is strong yet flexible. Orchids and Bamboo was painted when the artist was fifty, about the time he was appointed to a government post in northern China. Both painting and poem look forward to retirement in the south and celebrate the literati ideal of retreating to nature. The poem, inscribed at the left end of the scroll, is written in a free and elegant style that echoes the brushwork of the orchids beside it.
The artist dedicated his painting and poem to his friend Cheng Duo (act. early-mid-18th century), who, in response, inscribed the painting himself and asked three friends to add inscriptions. At the request of a later owner, Huo Rumu (d. 1921), the renowned calligrapher and painter Wu Changshi (1844–1927) inscribed the title sheet with the characters for "Ink Play" in archaic seal script. At Huo's invitation, another scholar wrote a long poetic appreciation on a separate sheet of paper attached at the left end of the scroll.
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清 鄭燮 蘭竹圖 卷
Title:Orchids and bamboo
Artist:Zheng Xie (Chinese, 1693–1765)
Period:Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium:Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 13 3/4 x 147 1/2 in. (34.9 x 374.7 cm) Overall with mounting: 15 1/8 x 295 1/4 in. (38.4 x 749.9 cm)
Credit Line:Edward Elliott Family Collection, Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1981
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (6 columns in semi-cursive script):
I know that by nature you are a man of pure heart, So I have painted these secluded orchids as a portrait [of you]. Someday when we are old and retire in Jiangnan [south of the Yangzi River], In thatched huts with bamboo fences, we will still be good neighbors.
In the spring of the seventh year of the Qianlong era , I painted and inscribed this for Mr. Zhenfan [Cheng Duo]. I ask him to correct both for me. Your junior, Banqiao, Zheng Xie, respectfully wrote this.
 Translated by Shen C.Y. Fu in Shen C. Y. Fu et al., Traces of the Brush: Studies in Chinese Calligraphy, exhibition catalogue, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977, p. 285.
[ David L. Elliott , West Palm Beach, FL, 1981; sold to MMA]
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery. "Traces of the Brush: Studies in Chinese Calligraphy," April 6, 1977–June 27, 1977.
University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley. "Traces of the Brush: Studies in Chinese Calligraphy," September 20, 1977–November 27, 1977.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Text and Image: The Interaction of Painting, Poetry, and Calligraphy," January 23–August 16, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection," September 15, 2000–January 7, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Millennium of Chinese Painting: Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," September 8, 2001–January 13, 2002.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "When the Manchus Ruled China: Painting under the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)," February 2–August 18, 2002.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of the Brush: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy," March 12–August 14, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733–1799)," October 6, 2009–January 10, 2010.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Noble Virtues: Nature as Symbol in Chinese Art," September 10, 2022–January 29, 2023.
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