Born in Shantung province, Ma Fu-t'u passed his chu-jen
(bachelor) degree but, there is no record that he held government office. Almost all of his extant paintings, like the present work, were executed in large part with the tips or nails of his fingers as well as with the brush. Finger painting was revitalized by the Shun-chih emperor (r. 1644-1661) helping make it fashionable during early Ch'ing.
The subjects of Ma's paintings generally lend themselves to the expressionistic finger painting technique. The deer and pines of the present work are standard Taoist emblems of longevity and scholarly aspirations. The rolling waves and wind symbolize the forces of the universe and often serve as vehicles for Buddhist and Taoist immortals.
The inscription reads:
"Finger-painted by Ma Fu-t'u."