QI BAISHI (1863-1957)
Hanging scroll, ink on paper
Inscribed and signed, with two seals of the artist
131.5 x 34 cm. (51¾ x 13 3/8 in.)
Dated dingchou year (1937)
According to Hu Peiheng, Qi rarely painted squirrels before he turned seventy, and on the rare occasions he did, he never seemed able to pin down the essence of the animal. When Qi was seventy- five, he purchased a squirrel as a pet and in the process of taking care of it, slowly began to understand the mannerisms and appearance of a squirrel and began to paint in earnest the true likeness of the animal. This painting was created in 1937 and is a perfect example of Qi's work just after his 'big change', to paint everything from life and observation. Qi cleverly depicts fluffy squirrel, with mischievous expressions, their diminutive size highlights by the pine branches. The strength of the pine and its interesting form again reflect Qi's training in seal carving and calligraphy - with the same ink and brush, Qi managed to depict the fluffiness and lightness of the squirrels, juxtaposed with sturdy and tough pine branches, creating a contrast not only in size but also in ink use and brush strength as well.
In his inscription Qi dedicated the painting to "Noble neighbor Mr. Delin", who was his good friend Li Zongren (1890-1969), the vice-president and acting president of the People's Republic of China in 1948 and 1949, respectively. According to records, Li enjoyed making friends with artists and was close to Xu Beihong, Qi Baishi and Huang Binhong, to name but a few. A significant point to note was that this art, created in 1937, was painted the same year the Sino-Japanese war began (July 1937), after which Qi Baishi resigned from his teaching posts and refused to receive any visitors or commissions. This is possibly one of the last pictures he created before refraining from meeting with people, adding to its rarity and historical significance.