This spare, enigmatic scene represents a revolutionary redirection in Chinese painting. Zhao Mengfu reduces his "painted" landscape to a set of calligraphic brush conventions, with the rocks executed in "flying-white" cursive and the pines outlined in unmodulated seal script. He rejects representation and relies instead on expressive brush lines to imbue his imagery with personal meaning.
Zhao underscores his commitment to this new approach by adding a title to the right of his pines and writing a long inscription on top of the distant mountains at the left side of the composition, making it clear that his painting is not merely about landscape scenery.
Despite his adherence to this new style, Zhao chooses a traditionally significant subject. In Chinese art, pine trees have long been emblems of survival. By representing them here, Zhao may be referring to his own political survival under the Mongol occupation, as well as to the endurance of Chinese culture under foreign rule.
Caption by the MET.