Yun Bing reminds us of the fleeting beauty of nature

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Women’s History Month and Art in Bloom (on view from March 24–26), we hope that you enjoy this painting from the collection.


Yun Bing (惲冰) (Nan Lan Ling Nu Shi)
(Chinese, Qing Dynasty, active ca. 1670–1710)
Chrysanthemums, autumn 1688
Handscroll with India ink on silk
78 x 17 ¾ x 2 ½ in.
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Richard Driscoll, A3527,00.0202

In Chrysanthemums, Yun Bing embodied the spirit of longing and wistfulness from the verses of a poem described below. Specifically, she centers our attention on the fleeting beauty and fine textural details of the flower petals, leaves, and rocky outcroppings whose colors are subtly juxtaposed. While the poet, the fence, and the mountains are not present in the composition, the viewer is invited to imagine their existence. The characters in this painting contain a poem by Tao Yuanming (ca. 365–427 CE), who was a renowned poet of the Jin (265–420 CE) and Liu Song (420–479 CE) Dynasties, and also was a great enthusiast of chrysanthemums:

Although we cannot be intoxicated (in the love for chrysanthemums) together with Tao,the hearts blossomed, facing the East Fence at one time.

According to historical sources, it is believed that Yuanming planted his own chrysanthemums at the east fence of his residence, in reference to his famous line in another poem: “While plucking chrysanthemums under the east fence, I observed leisurely the south mountain.” Both the artist and her intended audience of aristocratic literati (intellectuals), most of whom were well-versed in ancient Chinese poetry, would have recognized the significance of both the fences and flowers in each of Yuanming’s poems.

Born in Changzhou (Jiangsu Province), Bing was a descendant of Yun Shouping (1633–1690, Nantian), a renowned Qing Dynasty flower painter and one of the “Six Masters” along with the Four Wangs and Wu Li (ca. 1632–1718). Her alias, Nan Lan Ling Nu Shi, literally means “intellectual woman of South Lanling” (southern Shandong Province, China). Like her relative, Shouping, Bing was a remarkably sensitive observer of nature and painted not only flowers but also insects and birds in their natural habitat. During her lifetime, the governor–general of Liang–Jiang (eastern China) presented one of her paintings to the Empress Dowager Xiao Sheng Xian (1693–1777) and the Qianlong Emperor (Hongli, 1711–1799). The Emperor admired it so much that he inscribed a dedicatory poem on the work, thereby helping to establish Bing’s reputation at court. As her career progressed, she became one of the most renowned women artists of the Yun family.




This WeekendArt is sponsored by Mrs. Derwood B. Bousum.