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Daily Art Moment: Sun Yi

This joyful, exuberant painting is an example of the rich vocabulary of auspicious symbols in Chinese art. The combination here of flowering peonies with pink crabapple and white magnolia blossoms, for example, can be understood as a visual-verbal rebus meaning “May your noble house be blessed with wealth and honor” (yutang fugui). The lively, full action of the painting gives the birds in stylized, curving poses of matched pairs, while branches of flowering plants dance in the wind, petals fluttering. Applications of color are delicate in some areas, bold and saturated in others. This bright composition would have appealed to lovers of flower-and-bird painting, with its felicitous themes and meticulous execution.

The painter, Sun Yi, lived and worked in what is present-day Fujian province on the southeastern China coast. His work was well known in Japan, and prized by the elite of the Satsuma clan in southern Kyushu. As a specialist in flowers, birds, insects, and grasses, Sun Yi inspired many Edo and Meiji period Japanese artists who followed the flower-and-bird techniques of skilled Chinese painters like Sun Yi, in an interesting instance of transnational influence outside the literati tradition.

Jeannie Kenmotsu, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art

Image description: Birds and Flowers (detail), Sun Yi, hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, painting: 48 1/2 x 27 3/4 inches; mounting; 92 1/2 x 34 inches. Detail of scroll depicting two birds perched on flowering branches. A brown bark covered branch bisects the work from upper left slanting down the lower right. A male bird grips the branch at left, grey plumed tail held high while it bows its blue capped head at its mate at lower right. Its wings are bright blue, body gray and beak, legs and feet a brilliant red. They perch among creamy white magnolia blossoms and buds, tiny pale pink crabapple blossoms and leafy greenery. A large peach magnolia blossom with its many layered, ruffled petals is at lower bottom next to a violet peony bud. The scene is set against a khaki background.

Sun Yi (Chinese, fl. late 17th-early 18th century), Birds and Flowers, 1699. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk. Bequest of Margery Hoffman Smith, 83.38.357