Three sparrows perch on a branch of blossoming plum, seeming to huddle together against the cold of winter. Although of similar size and shape, the birds are individualized by their postures, the head of the bird on the right partially hidden by a wing, the bird in the center turning his head back and to the right, while the bird in the back raises one leg to scratch his head. The plum blossoms are rendered in some detail with their placement along the rising diagonal axis of the painting separating the composition into two parts, contrasting filled with empty, narrative with evocative space.
There is some possibility that this painting was originally a rectangular album leaf but oval- shaped fans are known quite early (fig. 1) and become quite common during the Southern Sung era (fig. 2). Sparrows appear in many paintings of the time (fig. 3), and the present work may date to that era as well. However, the silk is coarser than is usual for paintings done for the court, so it can be suggested that it was done during the late Sung period for a non-imperial market or during the early Yuan period when the imperial silk manufactories had ceased production.
Fig. 1. Ku Hung-chung, att.: “The Night Revels of Han Hsi-tsai,” detail, after Chung-kuo Mei-shu Shih, Hui-hua- pien, Beijing, 1988, vol. 2, p. 136.
Fig. 2. Anon.: “Butterfly on Plant,” Chung-kuo Mei-shu Shih, Hui-hua-pien,, Beijing, 1988, vol. 4, p. 59.
Fig. 3. Anon.: “Sparrows on Autumn Branch,”Chung-kuo Mei-shu Shih, Hui-hua-pien, Beijing, 1988, vol. 4, p. 130.