Four iron paintings, tiehua

Four iron paintings, tiehua

China, Qing dynasty, 18th – 19th century

Length, incl. frame: 15 inches, 38 cm

Width, incl. frame: 10 7/8 inches, 27.5 cm

Four iron paintings, depicting respectively a gnarled branch of flowering plums, orchids, bamboos and chrysanthemums. The plants are all made of wrought iron elements, which are crafted individually and jointed together with bolts. Each painting is contained within a hardwood frame.


These four panels of fine quality are excellent examples of iron imitating ink paintings. The combination of the four plants represents the four seasons of the year and is known as Sijunzi, translated variously as the Four Gentlemen or Four Plants of Virtue. [1] A set of four 18th century iron paintings representing plants of the seasons, smaller in dimensions, is in the collection of the British Museum, and illustrated by Jenyns. [2] Another set of comparable four iron paintings depicting plants is in the John Reilly Jr. collection and illustrated in The Romance of Chinese Art. [3] A set of four iron paintings dated to the 17th century, including one with comparable prunus branches, was included in the exhibition, The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period from the Shanghai Museum in 1987. [4]

  1. Welch, P. B. Chinese Art – A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, 2012, p. 21
  2. Jenyns, R.S. and Watson, W. Chinese Art, vol. II, Phaidon, Oxford, 1980, no. 72, p.104
  3. Hobson, R. L. The Romance of Chinese Art, 1929, Garden City Publishing, New York, pl. 46-6, p. 163
  4. Li, C. T. and Watt, James C.Y. eds, The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period-An Exhibition from the Shanghai Museum, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1987, pp. 120-121, no. 68