VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Magpie Perched on a Plum Tree Branch
Vm 6255
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The scene rendered in the traditional Chinese flower-and-bird genre shows a cold-stricken magpie perched on a blossoming plum tree. The superb brushwork evokes the feeling of the scene’s intrinsic energy and immediacy. The colour harmony of grey, black, white and pink hues is evocative of a cold, crystalline, late-winter day. This fan is the only such item in the National Gallery‘s collection of Chinese paintings, whose original mount has been preserved, which enhances the overall aesthetic sense of perfection. The circular frame is finished with an ornate handle made of mottled bamboo which, on the reverse side, divides the fan into two halves. Each half comprises a tetrastich, which was calligraphed by Rushan in 1880. On the reverse side, the frame is embellished with an engraved verse by the Song poet Su Shi.

History of the Object
The image was painted by Ren Bonian, born Ren Yi, one of the most distinguished Chinese artists of the late 19th century. He became recognized as a portraitist and figure painter, but achieved highest acclaim for his flower-and-bird paintings. His ability to capture birds in flight and natural movement was particularly admired. Ren Bonian was active as a professional painter in Shanghai during the second half of the 19th century. A major centre of commerce and cultural life at the time, Shanghai was the largest metropolis of China’s south-eastern coast. The so-called Shanghai School of Painting was established there, which included several generations of prominent painters. In an attempt to adapt to the demands and tastes of their patrons from the ranks of wealthy businessmen and industrialists, these artists often abandoned classical painting traditions and introduced various innovations that foreshadowed 20th-century painting. The National Gallery’s collection houses a number of other works by prominent representatives of the Shanghai School.

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Type
Painting 
Materials
Circular fan, ink and colours on silk 
Measurements
27.5 x 26.4 cm, length with handle 40.2 cm 
Creator name
Ren Bonian, real name Ren Yi 
Creator date
1840-1896 
Where it was made
China 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; Dated 1881, Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) 
Function
fan 
Acquisition
Purchased from a private collection in 1995 
Copyright
National Gallery in Prague 
Acknowledgements
Petra Polláková, Lucie Olivová 
Owner
National Gallery in Prague 
Museum
The National Gallery 
Credit line
National Gallery in Prague 

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