Title: Album of Blossoming Plum
Date: Between 1634 and 1708
Ink and colors on paper
Dimensions: Each leaf: 11 × 15 inches (27.9 × 38.1 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Judith Stoikov, Class of 1963
As the first tree to bloom in late winter or early spring, plum represents perseverance because of its ability to withstand the harsh cold yet produce delicate, pure blossoms. During the Yuan dynasty, ink monochrome depictions of plum were esteemed for representing the wild plum, distinct from the colorful painted flowers done by imperial court artists and considered superior to the artifice of cultivated varieties. As the purer form of the flower, wild plum was likened to the hermit scholar who would reject worldliness and government service for a reclusive life of virtue. Emphasizing the naturalness of the twisted, unkempt branches and sparse white flowers of the wild specimens, ink plum (momei) imagery became an important mode for literati self-expression and spontaneous calligraphic brushwork.
Little is known about the artist Gao Jian’s life, except that he was born in Suzhou ten years before the fall of the Ming dynasty. Known for small-scale works, Gao’s paintings of plum blossoms are among the most admired. This album includes plum blossoms with camellia, an early blooming plant that represents nobility, and whose red color is associated with joy and protection. Another leaf of the album shows the yellow blossoms of the wax plum (lamei) in combination with narcissus and roses. Narcissus and plum together represent the wish, “May the heavenly immortals honor you with longevity.” Rose is the “flower of eternal spring,” and emblematic of youthfulness in old age. Other pages focus on the ink plum as symbol of Confucian virtue, in deft brushwork that sensitively conveys the duality of the plum’s vigor and fragility.
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.