The subject of this scroll painting is Lü Tung-pin (755-805), also known as Lü Yen and as Ch'un-yang, the titular god of the northern branch of Chinese Taoism and one of the Eight Immortals. Lü Yen was one of the later patriarchs of the Taoist sect, of whose doctrines he was an ardent votary. According to legend, while holding office as a magistrate of the District of Têh-hwa, he encountered the immortalized Han Chung-li and was instructed by him in the mysteries of alchemy and the magic formula of the elixir of life. Lü Yen was subjected to a series of ten temptations, all of which he overcame. He then was invested with the formulas of magic and a sword of supernatural power, with which he killed dragons, ridding the earth of evil, for a period of about four hundred years. In the twelfth century, temples were erected in his honor (as Lü Tsu or Patriarch Lü), and these were dedicated to his worship under the designation Ch'un Yang.
An ink inscription associated with this painting and written by Chu-Chi, a Taoist, reads in translation: "T'êng Ch'ang-Yu of Shen Hwa was a member of the Imperial Academy of Painting in the reign of the Emperor Hsi-Chung [874-879]. He accompanied the Emperor while he took refuge in Sichuan province. The writings and paintings of T'êng Ch'ang-Yu are very famous but very rare. This painting is authentic: unfortunately it has been very much damaged. The portrait of the immortal still remains intact--may it not be protected by the Spirit of Immortality?." There is also a fragmentary inscription on the painting to either side of the upper body of the figure. The last character of this damaged inscription has been identified as the name of the painter T'êng Ch'ang-Yu or Teng Changyou, a late ninth-early tenth century painter of birds, flowers, insects, and plants.
Chavannes, Édouard and Raphaël Petrucci. La Peinture chinoise au Musée Cernuschi (avril-juin 1912) (Ars Asiatica vol. 1). Brussels: G. van Oest and Co., 1914, 10-13, 77, no. 47; pl. 2-3 [considered an original painting of the 9th century].
Ferguson, John C. Outlines of Chinese Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1919, pp. 212-213.
Petrucci, Raphaël. Chinese Painters: a critical study. New York: Brentano's, 1920, 39, pl. 5.
Yetts, W. Percival. "Pictures of a Chinese Immortal." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs vol. 39, no. 222 (September 1921), 115-116.
Musée Cernuschi, 4-6/1912;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 4/1914-10/1920;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 3/1923-5/1933;
"Golden Gate International Exposition," San Francisco, CA, 2/18-12/2/1939;
Mills College, San Francisco, CA, 1940
Collection or property of Edgar Worch, Berlin (collector and dealer).
Collection of August F. Jaccaci, New York.
Purchased from August F. Jaccaci, New York, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 12/1919.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 12/1919-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.