A boat floats on the foreground river, two figures sitting within at leisure. Just above, to the left, a servant carrying a load of books enters a gate through the fence that encloses the retreat. A scholar with staff ascends the path leading to a two-story villa above. On the first floor a table supports books, an incense burner, and a vase with chrysanthemums, while from a viewing room on the second floor two scholars stand and survey the quiet scene before them, perhaps in anticipation of the arrival of their friend. Beyond a mist-filled valley a massive mountain peak rises to the top of the picture, its serried ranks extending to the far distance.
Although Xie Zhongyan is not recorded in standard biographical sources, the style of his painting suggests a dating to 1684, during the early years of the Qing dynasty. The only other painting known by Xie is a portrait of the merchant Wei Zhiyan, also dated to 1684. The inscription on that painting gives Chuanzhou as his place of birth, and Xie, like Wei, may have been involved with the overseas trade going through the Japanese port of Nagasaki.
The foundation for the style of the present painting was laid by Dong Yuan and Juran during the 10th century, continued during the Yuan dynasty by Wu Zhen, and came to one kind of conclusion in the paintings of Shen Zhou (1427-1509). The style incorporates texture strokes within the rock and mountain forms, and features systems of dottings for tree foliage and grasses. The blunt strokes are at times calligraphic in nature while still functioning successfully to describe three-dimensional forms. Xie Zhongyan can thus be thought of as a professional artist who had mastered the most important lineage of literati art, one able to execute that style at the highest level of technical competency.