Painted in 1943, Eagle demonstrates Xu Beihong's keen observation of nature and his understanding of the anatomy of birds, as well as his mastery of ink. In this work, Xu uses broad and broken brushwork to present the majestic and powerful long wings of the eagle. While its silky plumage and ruffled feathers are exceptionally well rendered, using various tones of ink wash and short brush strokes, its massive hooked bill and talons are delineated. Known for its keen sight and powerful soaring flight, the demeanor of this large bird of prey is further accentuated by the expression of its staring eyes and posture. It is clear that when Xu was painting the eyes for the eagle, he had already absorbed the best of Western realistic drawing techniques.
The image of a flying eagle was a poignant symbol of Chinese soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). This corresponds perfectly with the inscription "Powerful and arrogant, for whom is he acting like a hero?" written by the artist. In fact, this inscription is excerpted from the poem "A gift to Li Bai" of Du Fu, a great poet of the Tang dynasty whom Xu admired most.
Throughout his artistic career, Xu Beihong painted many eagles and they are especially favoured by his collectors. Compare a very similar painting of slightly larger size (104 x 60 cm) dated 1944, in the Xu Beihong Museum Collection, Beijing, as previously exhibited in Hong Kong (Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Museum of Art, The Art of Xu Beihong, 15 April 1988-3 July 1988) . (See Illustration)