As indentified by the colophons, the figure seated reading in a boat is Qiao Lai (1642-1694), who was a native of Baoying in Yangzhou. After he attained the prestigious jinshi ("presented scholar") degree in 1667, Qiao Lai held several important posts in Emperor Kangxi's court. However, he was implicated in a scandal and in 1688 retired to a life of literary pursuits and garden restoration. He was also an accomplished painter of landscapes. Three portraits painted by Yu Zhiding (1647-1716) of Qiao Lai in the Nanjing Museum clearly depict the same man (reproduced in Ming Qing renwu xiaoxianghua xuan, cat. nos. 31-3 and discussed by Richard Vinograd in Boundaries of the Self: Chinese Portraits 1600-1900, pp. 53-4) and are rendered in a fashion similar enough to raise the possibility that Yu Zhiding painted this version as well.
The colophons that surround the portrait, which was probably painted in the 1670s, are all written by friends of Qiao Lai, who shared similar careers and literary prowess. Like Qiao Lai, five of the group achieved the jinshi degree and four others sat for a special official exam held in 1678-79. All served in the government and were accomplished authors of prose and poetry. Each illustrious friend inscribed a poem that described the paradisial spring garden which Qiao Lai is shown serenely enjoying, accompanied by the books that he collected and studied. Most eloquent is the poem by Wang Shizhen, who describes a fragrant world filled with swirling peach blossoms and celebrates Qiao Lai's sublime appreciation of the moment and indifference to fame and fortune.