Three mynah birds huddle together on a snow-covered willow appearing above a branch of blossoming plum. This foreground scene is set off against a dark plane of water and riverbank in the distance. The reserve technique is used to great effect here, with ink washes used to darken the areas around unpainted white silk, which thus serve to indicate snow. The brushwork is strong, in perfect congruence with the harshness of the winter theme, and further identifies the artist as a professional master of his craft.
Comparable works are found in significant numbers in Japanese collections, brought over by daimyo during the 16th century when such large and visually striking paintings were desired for various reception rooms (fig. 1). Close parallels in fact can be found between the present painting and works attributed to Lu Chi (ca. 1440-ca. 1505) (fig. 2). Both artists attained a very high level of technical expertise and used those skills to create paintings that delight us yet today.
1. Although attributed to the Yuan master Chao Yung (ca. 1289-ca. 1362), the son of Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322), this painting most probably dates several generations after his time.
Fig. 1. Chao Yung, attributed: “Herons and Willow Tree in Snow,” after Chugoku no Kachoga to Nihon, Tokyo,
1983, pl. 37.
Fig. 2. Lu Chi: “Winter Landscape,” after Chugoku no Kachoga to Nihon, Tokyo, 1983, pl. 78.