The Feng Wen Tang Collection of Chinese Paintings
Throughout his life, Qi Baishi most often painted bird-and-flower paintings, which he started studying under Hu Zizhuo, who also taught him landscape painting.
Influenced by his master, Qi executed bird-and-flower paintings mostly in the exquisite gongbi style before he was 40. After the age of 40 the artist went on five journeys, during which his style underwent a transition. Before 1902 Qi mainly painted bird-and-flower works after Bada Shanren, but he also imitated other painters' styles, including Xu Wei's (1521-1593) and Jin Nong's (1687-1763).
In 1919, when Qi was 57, he moved to Beijing, trying to make a living by selling paintings and carving seals. Later he became friends with Chen Shizeng (1876-1923), who convinced him to change the style of his bird-and-flower paintings, which were selling poorly as they failed to win local favour. His new unique style of strong colour contrasts became popular.
Qi Baishi claimed that flowers, insects and birds are inseparable subject matters; they are also the most numerous and representative subjects among Qi's body of works - "When depicting flowers one must also add insects and birds to give life and invigorate the painting."
In Insects and Leaves (Lot 1245), Qi painted a dragonfly, a praying mantis, and two grasshoppers against a few Bodhi tree branches and leaves. Bodhi tree has a special religious significance in Buddhism and is easily recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves. Qi outlines the delicate veins of the leaves with scrupulously painted brushstrokes, rendering them almost translucent. The branches of the tree, in contrast, are painted with powerful, firm and broader strokes, reminding viewers of his humble origin as a calligrapher and seal carver. Qi positioned three insects in the void of the painting and one clawing on a leaf, with space for viewers to appreciate the form of these small creatures. His insects are meticulously and accurately depicted; the result of rigorous sketching and prolonged observation and study. Even before Qi began to paint insects prolifically, the artist kept insects and small animals at his home, where he would watch their body movements. Qi set the painting in autumn, and not only did he portray bare tree branches with just a little foliage, he used harmonious hues with tints of red and yellows on the branches, the leaves and the insects, signifying the change of season.
Qi Baishi's incorporation of gongbi insects and xieyi tree branches is innovative and represents a pinnacle in his later artistic career, as he attested that "to employ both gong (bi) and xie (yi) together is most challenging."