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Mandarin Ducks and Lotus

A work made of hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper.


Qing dynasty (1644–1911), 1892


Ren Yi (Chinese, 1840-1895)

About this artwork

Ren Yi was among the most successful and influential among Chinese painters of the so-called Shanghai School. Arriving in Shanghai in 1857, he took the artistic name “bonian” (one-hundred years), claiming that it would take him a century to achieve success. However, by 1875 Ren Yi was the best-known painter in Shanghai. His highly sought-after bird-and-flower paintings initially followed the Song dynasty (960–1279) convention of applying rich color fields within outlines, producing decorative patterning with lifelike representation. This painting represents his mature, more spontaneous style that is characterized by looser brushwork, more ink washes, and greater tonal variation.

Although his inscription states that Ren Yi executed this work in the winter “with a frozen ink stone,” he clearly depicted an early summer scene. Four large lotus leaves, brushed with wet-ink washes, overpower a pair of young, delicate blossoms. The aquatic lotus emerges with pristine beauty from murky water and thereby carries enduring associations with Buddhist beliefs in purity and rebirth. Above the lotus, partially camouflaged by wind-swept reeds, swims a pair of mandarin ducks—traditional symbols of marital bliss and fidelity. Painted with sharp, quick brush strokes, this engaging depiction of the young couple suggests an intimacy appropriate for lifelong partners.


Currently Off View


Arts of Asia


Ren Yi


Mandarin Ducks and Lotus


China (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Artist's working dates 1840–1895


Hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper


149.8 × 40 cm (58 15/16 × 15 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Florence Ayscough and Harley Farnsworth MacNair Collection

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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