Bamboo, plum, and rock

Li Fangying Chinese

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 216

Only after failing in his pursuit of a career as a government official did Li Fangying dedicate himself to painting as a means of survival. For Li and men like him, the plum, which dares to bloom in the cold of late winter, was a symbol of perseverance in a world that did not appreciate their talents. Li’s love of blossoming plum was such that he named his studio the Plum Blossom Tower; it was there, in 1743, that he made this painting. The poem reads, in part:

The mist engulfing the empty mountains hasn’t dissipated at dawn.
In the dim light it reflects upon itself whose talent is appreciated by none other.
Exemplary of the spirit against winter’s bitter cold, it cannot be subdued.
New signs have arrived from heaven.
—Translation by Shi-yee Liu

Bamboo, plum, and rock, Li Fangying (Chinese, 1696–1754), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, China

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