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 mynah bird, known for its perfect imitation of the human voice, was a favorite subject of the influential 17th-century painter Zhu Da (Bada Shanren). Known for his highly individualistic style, Zhu Da was particularly influential among Shanghai painters. The black form of the mynah was ideal for the expressive brushwork known as xieyi (“sketch conceptualism”); and for Zhu Da, the mynah was imbued with a cryptic, highly personal symbolic power. It is unclear whether Ren Yi consciously accessed Zhu Da’s symbolic usage of the bird as a rebuke of Chinese society in this painting. However, as indicated in the inscription, which states that the painting was a gift for a friend and antique shop owner, Ren Yi consciously “imitated” Zhu Da’s style as a tribute to the artist.
Currently Off View
- Arts of Asia
- Ren Yi
- Mynah and Bamboo
- Made 1887–1897
- Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
- 125.7 × 50.5 cm (49 1/4 × 19 7/8 in.)
- Gift of Florence Ayscough and Harley Farnsworth MacNair