Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Lü Yao (dates uncertain but probably nineteenth century)
Boys and Water Buffalo Approaching a Gate
Work Type
fan, painting
probably 19th century
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Folding fan mounted as an album leaf; ink and light colors on gold flecked paper; with signature reading "Guxi Lü Yao hua" and two seals of the artist
max.: H. 17.8 x W. 52.2 cm (7 x 20 9/16 in.)
mounting: H. 32.1 x W. 62.2 cm (12 5/8 x 24 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Guxi Lü Yao hua
  • inscription: artist's dedication, immediately follows the date: brush-written in ink one column of six characters
  • inscription: Artist's inscription; upper right quadrant: brush-written in ink in eight columns of four characters each, note that the poem was originally written by the famous Yuan poet Huang Qinglao

  • inscription: date, immediately follows the inscription: brush-written in ink in one column of four characters reading: "Bingchen mengqiu" (Bingchen year, first month of autumn, the cyclical year bingchen perhaps refers to 1856)
  • inscription: Top center, artist's signature: brush-written in ink in one column of five characters reading "Guxi Lü Yao hua"
  • seal: Artist's seal: to left of signature; top: square, red, intaglio seal reading "Lü Yao"
  • seal: Artist's seal, to left of signature; bottom (i.e., immediately below above seal): square, red, relief seal reading "Yun Xi"
Edmund Lin (1928-2006; Professor, Harvard Medical School), Boston; by bequest to the Harvard Art Museum
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Edmund Chi Chien Lin
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Once affixed to a folding-fan frame, this painting is now mounted flat as an album leaf. The painting, which Lü Yao did in ink and light colors on gold-flecked paper, represents two herdboys and an ox in a limited landscape. The ox appears in the lower right corner of the composition standing in a stream near the thicket of bamboo that borders the painting's right edge. One boy sits astride the ox's back while the other, who stands in the center of the composition, pulls on a rope attached to the ox's nose, trying valiantly to induce the stubborn ox to step out of the stream and onto dry land. The two old, gnarled willow trees that grow on the far bank of the river dominate the left half of the composition and frame a dwelling that must lie beyond the picket fence. The artist's inscription, signature, and seals appear in the upper right portion of the painting.

The theme of herdboys and oxen first became popular in China during the Southern Song period (1127-1279). When it first appeared, it had Zen overtones. While not a major theme of Chinese painting, the subject continued to enjoy some limited popularity in the succeeding Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The Harvard Art Museum collection includes one painting on this theme (1923.146), an album leaf from the Ming dynasty representing one boy on the back of a water buffalo, and one small Ming-dynasty jade (1942.185.122), a paperweight in gray nephrite representing one boy on the back of a recumbent water buffalo.

We have not yet found the artist, Lü Yao, mentioned in any literature on the history of Chinese painting. Although we at first thought the painting might date to the eighteenth century, we now believe that it likely was done in Shanghai in the nineteenth century by an artist of the so-called Shanghai school. In the nineteenth century, the bingchen cyclical year corresponds to 1856.

In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, the bingchen cyclical year corresponds to 1736, 1796, 1856, and 1916. The painting has to have been done in one of those years.

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at