Zhao Mengfu has been honored as an early master within the tradition of the literati painters, who sought personal expression rather than the representation of nature.
Zhao Mengfu paintings were among the first after the collapse of the Song dynasty and its academy of painting to show an interest derived from subjects and styles of ancient masters. Zhao is popularly remembered as a painter of horses in the manner of the Tang dynasty (618–907) master Han Gan, but he also painted other animal groups, landscapes, and bamboos. Referring to the antique, he generally avoided superficial beauty by utilizing deliberately simplified color and compositions and a schematic, even childlike, rendering of forms and scale. His works often display a great variety of brushwork.