Landscape painting and calligraphy were the ultimate expressions of art in traditional China. The ideal for the scholar was to commune with nature, walking among the mountains and streams, but this was generally not practicable for a busy official, so taking out a landscape painting and allowing the mind to wander its paths was a substitute for this.
This painting is attributed to Gong Xian. Gong Xian's life was greatly affected by the cataclysmic changes resulting from the fall of the Ming dynasty. His hopes for a comfortable life as a scholar official were dashed and although he is regarded as part of the wenren 'literati' painting tradition, he was forced to 'abase' himself and become a professional painter.