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T: Wei-ch'ang Jen Hsiung was the leader of the dominant Shanghai School that arose in the mid-nineteenth-century. From Hsiao-shan, Chechiang he worked for a time in Hangchou living with the collector Chou Hsuen (1820-1875) and copying works from his collection. He later moved to Shanghai where he became established as the first of the four famous Jens. He was an extremely versatile artist, capable of painting figures, landscapes, and bird and flowers with equal skill and creativity. This painting is remarkable for the way Jen Hsiung runs together the ink and colors on the birds' plumage without letting them really mix in a messy way. Somehow the pigments are made opaque, mixed with some filler, and kept from flowing together freely. I've asked artists how this is done and gotten various answers; nobody is quite sure. It begins in eighteenth-century Yangchou painting, especially in Li Shan's works, and is taken up by later flower painters, notably Chao Chih-ch'ien. It allows the artist to place areas of heavy color together, contiguously, as couldn't be done before. The effect may be in part inspired by European paintings they saw. Anyway, Jen Hsiung, always an innovator, uses it here for a heavy, somber effect which Tsuruta [Takeyoshi Tsuruta, a noted Japanese authority on nineteenth-century Chinese painting], writing about this and similar paintings, saw as an expression of the dark, somber mood of the mid nineteenth century.
Painting Hanging scroll: ink and color on paper China h 65 -1/2 x w 18 inches