Image of Chrysanthemums by a Rock

清 高鳳翰 菊石圖 軸
Chrysanthemums by a Rock

Known as one of the “Four Gentlemen” in Confucian philosophy, the chrysanthemum became the iconic flower for autumn. Chrysanthemums are the last flowers to bloom in the year, and their presence bracing the cold weather portrays their resilient and aloof personalities. In Tao Yuanming’s poem, On Drinking Wine, No. 5, “plucking chrysanthemums by the eastern hedge, from afar I catch sight of the southern mountain” becomes the most quoted line. While the act may be commonplace in the leisure of rustic life, Tao’s detachment from society gave the flower its representation of the hermit ‘gentleman.’

This new representation of the flower inspired many other poets and artists. Gao Fenghan’s Chrysanthemums by a Rock pays homage to the drunken Master of the Five Willows (a.k.a Tao Yuanming) in the inscriptions. At the age of fifty-four, Gao lost the use of his right hand. His unorthodox style and preference for individualism became heightened by the naive awkwardness of his left-handed brushwork. The vigorous wet brushwork in the painting creates a drunken flow that connects the contrasting lush flowers to the barren rock in harmony.

Poem selection and label by Diana Chen ’17, Beatrice Hesselbart ‘20, and Francesca Harrison ‘19