This painting is from the private collection of Singaporean businessman and art collector, Mr Chua Han Lim. Mr Chua's art collection encompasses classical and modern Chinese ink paintings, as well as calligraphy and ceramics from the Ming and Qing dynasties. An avid art lover, Mr Chua also practised calligraphy and Chinese ink painting himself. This painting was commissioned by Mr Chua in 1939 during Xu Beihong's time in Singapore.
In 1939 Xu took the Holland ferry to Singapore and stayed at Huang Manshi's house and in March that year held charity exhibitions to raise funds for the war effort in China. Living at a time of feudalistic and colonial rule, Xu Beihong proposed the theory that painters should not blindly copy from past masters, but enhance the tradition by breaking away from any weaknesses and incorporating western models of painting and art creation. During his time in France, he often frequented museums and saw original works of Renaissance painters Raphael and Botticelli, studying works in Western classical realism. Xu's paintings see an emphasis on proportion, anatomy and gesture of animals, and in this case, birds possessing grace and poise.
This vivid painting of four spirited magpies in lifelike posture reflects Xu Beihong's insight into nature. The magpies on the tree branch are well-proportioned and their expressions capture their harmonious and lively interaction with each other, bringing the viewer great pleasure.