Qi Baishi's paintings often hold a certain whimsical quality in their simple depiction of forms. In the present lot, Qi Baishi used traditional Chinese imagery to create a painting complex in meaning while maintaining his distinct, impressionable directness, and his ability to convey the essence of forms and ideas.
In this instance, an extremely rare white-haired monkey stands under a peach tree holding the fruit in hand, while her baby shyly hides behind her. This lively image bears multiple symbolic meanings: the peach traditionally represents immortality and the monkey represents success in office. In Daoist mythology, Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, was said to have presented a peach of immortality, which grows only once every 3,000 years, to Emperor Wu of Han.
The pronunciations of the word monkey and official are the same in Chinese; therefore it can be used as a pun to imply the success in office and the promotion of rank. The white-haired monkey is a genetic mutation which happens once every hundred-thousandth birth and is considered to be an exceptionally auspicious symbol. While Qi Baishi rarely used monkeys as the subject of his paintings, the white-haired monkey is an even rarer example among his works, making the present lot an exceptional piece.
Compare to a very similar piece sold in our saleroom on 25 May 2009, Lot 631. It was dated to 1940, when Qi Baishi was 77. This current piece was painted at the age of eighty-nine, roughly around the year 1950, sees a further sophistication and assuredness in his strokes and composition, as well as Qi Baishi's signature well-balanced forms and reduction of strokes.