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 work represents his mature, more spontaneous style that is characterized by looser brushwork, more ink washes, and greater tonal variation.
The contrast between the delicate flowers and thick vines of the wisteria make this plant ideal for showcasing an artist’s calligraphic prowess. In this painting, Ren Yi demonstrates his impressive range of brush techniques: dry, rough strokes dragged across the paper compose the wisteria vines; wet jumbles of short strokes imbue volume to the rocks; and subtle gradations of color dotted on the paper form the wisteria flowers. In the center sits a pair of paradise flycatchers. Their Chinese name, shoudai niao (sash bird), which describes the species’ long ribbonlike tails, is a homophone for the term shou (longevity). By combining a vibrant palette of colors, some of which were imported from Europe, with the bravado of his monochromatic brush technique, Ren Yi imbued past traditions with fresh innovation.
Currently Off View
- Arts of Asia
- Ren Yi
- Paradise Flycatchers and Wisteria
- Made 1887–1897
- Hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper
- 149.8 × 81.2 cm (59 × 32 in.)
- Gift of Florence Ayscough and Harley Farnsworth MacNair