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Anonymous 無款
(15th century)

“Geese and Peonies”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
163.5 x 96.8 cm. (64 3/8 x 38 7/8 in.)

Oriented along the horizontal and vertical axes of the picture, the work features large geese in the foreground and flying above, interspersed with a magpie and several kingfishers. In an unusual touch of realism, one of the foreground geese munches on what appears to be a centipede. Lotus blossoms and leaves in the lower left guide the eye upward to gorgeous peony blossoms, their stalks growing from a rock on the right-hand margin. Little pictorial depth is defined but the lotuses imply that the scene is backed by some kind of water course.

The skillful drawing and plethora of birds are akin to those in a work by the early 15th century court painter Bian Wenjin (fig. 1). In both cases, the use of a symmetrically balanced composition relates to the Yuan dynasty revival of Northern Song approaches, identifying them as conservative masters of the early Ming dynasty. The results are most satisfactory, given the high technical skills on view in the finished works, which please by their sheer decorative beauty.


Fig. 1. Bian Wenjin: “Three Friends and Hundred Birds, 1413, detail, after James Cahill: Chinese Painting, Geneva, 1960, p. 120.

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