Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Blossoming Branch of an Old, Weathered Plum Tree
Work Type
hanging scroll, painting
17th century
Creation Place: East Asia, Korea
Chosŏn dynasty, 1392-1910
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
painting proper: H. 54 x W. 42.7 cm (21 1/4 x 16 13/16 in.)
mounting, including cord and roller ends: H. 122.5 x W. 61.5 cm (48 1/4 x 24 3/16 in.)
[Kang Collection, New York (2001)] sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2001.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Purchase through the generosity of Mariot Fraser Solomon in memory of Lucy Rowland
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Because it blooms in winter, even before it dons its leaves and while snow and ice still cover the ground, the Chinese flowering plum (Prunus mume) became a symbol of purity and of strength in the face of adversity; as such, it was popular as both a literary and an artistic motif in China, Korea, and Japan. The plum, together with the orchid, the chrysanthemum, and the bamboo (three other botanical subjects imbued with symbolic Confucian meaning and conducive to depiction with a calligraphy brush and ink), came to be known as the "Four Gentlemen."

In this delicately rendered painting, the old blossoming plum tree appears almost as if enveloped in mist and shrouded in silvery moonlight. Unlike the rugged, expressive ink plum paintings by Cho Hŭi-ryong (1791-1859), the emphasis in this work is on suggestive description and delicate brushwork-characteristics typical of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Korean paintings of plum blossoms.

The wear and slight damage along the right edge of this painting, combined with absence of damage along the left vertical edge, suggest that it was once part of a folding screen. In that context, it is possible that the painting was salvaged from a damaged screen and subsequently mounted as a hanging scroll. One can imagine that the painting originally was one of six or eight panels, each of which represented an old plum tree.

Exhibition History

Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 07/06/2002 - 01/05/2003

A Compelling Legacy: Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/24/2004 - 03/20/2005

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at