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Birds on Red Plum

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 work represents his mature, more spontaneous style that is characterized by looser brushwork, more ink washes, and greater tonal variation.

Six pairs of sparrows are perched among the branches of a weathered plum tree that is partially obscured by a large, moss-covered boulder. Since the delicate, five-petal plum blossom appears at the earliest sign of spring, often when the ground is still covered with snow, it is interpreted both as a harbinger of spring and as a symbol for endurance and virtue in the face of adversity. Here, Ren Yi captured the frenetic energy of the sparrows, also a sign of spring, by depicting each one in a unique pose.


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Arts of Asia


Ren Yi


Birds on Red Plum


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 1887–1897


Hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper


187.3 × 97.5 cm (73 3/4 × 38 3/8 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Florence Ayscough and Harley Farnsworth MacNair Ccllection

Reference Number


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