Appreciated for their expressive "brush play," ink monochrome paintings of grapevines and squirrels were first popularized in 13th century China. During the Yuan period (1279-1368), such paintings were used to ridicule the Mongol rulers who, like squirrels, occupied high places but lived in fear of people. The inscription of this work, however, indicates that it was commissioned by a Japanese patron in the early 20th century and, its artistic balance between formalistic and realistic concerns creates a heightened aesthetic tension remarkably different from the earlier prototypes.
The inscription reads:
In this world both style and taste are subjective, so don't hesitate to call this work sweet or sour. During the thirty-first year of the Kuang-hsu reign (1905) on an auspicious day when the full moon was gloriously yellow I painted this . . .in old Bei-p'ing at the refined request of Master Sato.
Po Hao-nien, from Ch'ang-li district in the Ch'ing Kingdom