Flora (White Peach blossom)
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Xiang Shengmo (1597-1658) was a native of Xiushui (now Jiaxing) and grew up surrounded by the massive art collection amassed by his grandfather, Xiang Yuanbian (1525-1590), one of the most preeminent collectors of painting and calligraphy in Chinese history. He saw these treasures early and often, and by the time he began to paint, the styles of the old masters were ingrained in his hand and mind. In this painting of white plum blossom, he does not specifically identify old-master styles by name, but the composition is similar to a painting of plum blossom by Wang Mian (1287-1359) reflecting the encyclopedic knowledge afforded by his fortunate upbringing. There is no doubt that Xiang expected knowledgeable viewers of his day to recognise subtle references to famous styles and even specific paintings. Plum blossoms, along with bamboo and pine trees were known as the ‘three friends of winter’ because they stayed green and bloomed in the cold winter when nothing else did. The plum blossom thus became a symbol of resilience and strength.