Early Spring

Early Spring

National Treasure

National Treasure Intro

Guo Xi’s Early Spring painted during the Northern Song dynasty is an absolute classic of landscape painting. The hanging scroll is approximately 160cm in height, presenting an early spring scene of melting snow running down the streams and thin mist hanging over the mountains. It shows the return of the spring and the sprouting of nature.

Guo Xi studied at the Hanlin Art Academy and excelled in landscape painting. He specialized in using his three modes of distance (sanyuan), namely “high distance” (gaoyuan), “deep distance” (shenyuan) and “even distance” (pingyuan) to include scenes from a bird’s-eye view, a worm’s-eye view and a street view in his paintings. Early Spring shows a combination of Fan Kuan’s grand landscape compositions with Li Cheng’s expressive brush techniques, resulting in this monumental work.

These three paintings, Fan Kuan’s Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, Guo Xi’s Early Spring and Li Tang’s Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys, share a common feature in the composition of the central peak, which expresses the full majesty of the mountains.

National Treasure Appreciation

Guo Xi ingeniously used his three modes of distance (sanyuan), namely “high distance” (gaoyuan), “deep distance” (shenyuan) and “even distance” (pingyuan) to present a vertical panorama. In this painting, cliffs are craggy, rocks are crude, trees are winding. On the treetop new twigs grow out like spreading fingers, and on the ground the melting snow forms gentle streams in the valley, presenting a scene of the return of spring.

The painting is magnificent in structure, yet retains a soft charm. This is a place that qualifies the four ideal situations described in his Lofty Message of Forests and Streams: a place that one can reach, appreciate, visit and live in.

The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty (1711-1799) inscribed a poem above the painting in 1759.

“Trees are sprouting, streams are bubbling. In the pavilion overlooking the valley at the top of the mountain, it was not the willows nor the plum blossoms, but the mountain mists that brought me the message of spring.”

This inscription highlights the seasonal characteristics and atmosphere of Early Spring.

The majestic main peak stands in the center of the painting, while the clouds and mist in the mountains separate the middle ground from the background of the scene, creating a scene of depth in the painting.

By applying curves in his painting, Guo Xi connected the outline of the main peak to the curves of the tree trunks, creating a link between different scenes that guides the viewer’s eyes.

Though shrouded in a thin mist, the pavilions with flying eaves and arches can still be seen. With a waterfall running in the valley below the pavilions, the scene seems rather calm and tranquil.

Guo Xi uses deep ink to paint the rocks, creating a profound foreground and backdrop. The several pine trees in the foreground are hanging down like the claws of a crab, and are called “crab claw branches.” Together with the rocks painted with “swirling cloud strokes,” they fill the whole painting with vigor.

On the left side of the painting there is a seal inscription by Guo Xi, “Early Spring painted in the renzi year by Guo Xi.”

It is clear from this that Guo Xi named this painting Early Spring and that it was painted in 1072.

The 13 figures found in the landscape are vivid and lively.

On the left side of the painting there are two monks carrying bags and walking along a winding mountain road.

In the center of the painting there is one master waiting at the bridge for two servants, who are carrying things on their backs, to cross the wooden pallet bridge.

At the lower left of the painting there is a young child walking along with a mother who holds a baby in her arms.

They are accompanied by a servant carrying their belongings and a cheerful puppy running towards their house.

If you look closely at the center of the picture, you can see there are two travelers, one carrying luggage and the other holding a bamboo pole. They are slowly traversing the mountain.
A boat carries a fisherman holding a pole.

Understanding seals


    1. Ni Tsaichin, “Divine Paintings: The National Palace Museum’s Trio of National Treasures,” Art & Collection, 174, 2007, pp. 80-85.
    2. Li Peishi, “The Glory and Clues Behind Seals: Research on the Three Compilations and Seals of the Shiqu Baoji.Art & Collection, No. 208: 2010, pp. 84-93.
    3. Chen Yun-Ru and He Yan-Chiuan, Grand View: Special Exhibition of Northern Sung Painting and Calligraphy, Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2006.
    4. Lin Boheng, The Essential Collection of the National Palace Museum: Paintings, Books and Documents, Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2006.
    5. Cai Meifen, Splendid Treasures: A Hundred Masterpieces of the National Palace Museum on Parade, Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2011.
    6. Liu Fang-ju, Pu Li-An and Chen Yun-Ru, National Treasures of the Museum: Masterpiece Paintings by Fan Kuan, Guo Xi and Li Tang, Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2021.


The National Palace Museum (NPM) was established on October 10, 1925, when there were tens of thousands of paintings and pieces of calligraphy in the collection of the Qing court, which could be seen in the Forbidden City in Beijing. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the NPM moved its cultural relics to the south of China. The war ended in 1945, however in 1948, because of the ongoing civil war between the Kuomintang (KMT) and Communist Party, the KMT moved the artifacts in the NPM to Taiwan, then temporarily placed them in Beigou, Wufeng, Taichung. Later, a new museum in Waishuangxi, Taipei, started to be built. The new building was completed in August 1965 and formally opened to the public in November. In December 2015, the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi officially opened.

The NPM’s collection of artifacts were inherited from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing courts. Later, the artifacts transported to Taiwan from the Preparatory Department of the National Central Museum were incorporated into the NPM’s collection. The NPM houses hundreds of thousands of collected and acquired artifacts. These have gradually been digitized and are available on the “National Palace Digital Archive.” Some digital image files of artifacts are available on the “Open Data ” and can be used by the public under a Creative Commons license.