The subject matter in bird-and-flower painting is quite varied, including not only birds and flowers but also fish, insects, and other animals as well as trees, fruits, and vegetables. The techniques likewise vary somewhat; depending on the level of detail for the painting method, they can generally be divided into two types, “fine line” and “sketching ideas.” So how did painters depict bird-and-flower subjects on an autumn day? As autumn winds blow, wild geese start flying south, so the theme of geese and ducks in autumn heading south to spend the winter was a favorite choice among artists to describe the atmosphere of an autumnal day. This exhibition takes the viewpoint of appreciating waterfowl as a way to appreciate how painters interpreted the subject of waterfowl and autumn scenery. At the same time, works done in different techniques and mediums present the splendid variety of bird-and-flower themes as a whole.
Autumn Lotuses and a Wild Goose
Stretching its neck forward, a wild goose (misidentified as a duck in the Chinese title) strolls on a rocky promontory overlooking the water, the focus of its gaze on the distance as if attracted by something there or, like a person, deep in thought and lost in the feeling of autumn. The goose tramples on a fallen stalk of smartweed and stands silhouetted against a backdrop of decayed lotus leaves and pods, which further heighten the sense of autumn and highlight this solitary animal and the desolation of autumn.
The goose was painted in outlines of ink filled with heavy washes, the tones of which are mostly ink with ocher and cyanine added to them. Only the plants were done in a technique similar to that of the “boneless” method of washes, yet each and every stroke is meticulous and full of spirit with a sense of moving dynamism.
Withered Lotus and Waterfowl
Zhang Zhong, native to Songjiang in Jiangsu, excelled at depicting bird-and-flower subjects and could also do “ink play” painting.
This work depicts the corner of a lotus pond in late autumn. A pair of waterfowl (purple mandarin ducks) rests along the shore. The male in beautiful colors stands majestically with the female crouched on the ground behind and looking upward. Blades of bulrush bend in the breeze with a couple stems of withered lotus as if in a dance that echoes each other. Reflections and forms appear on and under the water, a rare sight in Chinese painting. The artist used strong brushwork to outline the bulrush and lotus stalks, the ducks featuring light washes of color for an endearing quality and elegant touch. The inscription originally read, “Made by Zizheng for ‘So-and-so’,” but after remounting, only “Made by Zizheng for…” remains.