Property of a Connecticut Lady
Post Lot Text
This painting of a Chinese bulbul perched on a rock is immediately identifiable as a work by the eccentric Chan-monk-artist Bada Shanren, also known as Zhu Da. The bold and expressive brushwork used for the rock, the dynamic energy of the bird conveyed by his alert eye and open beak, and his improbable position on the rock’s slope are all distinctive characteristics of Bada Shanren’s paintings.
As noted in his colophon that accompanies this painting, the foremost scholar on Bada Shanren, Wang Fangyu, adds further identification. Mr. Wang, who was a noted professor of Chinese art and language in the United States and was an accomplished and innovative calligrapher, studied the works of Bada Shanren throughout his life. He recorded the results of his years identifying the progression of Bada Shanren’s career, through the study of the evolution of his pictorial themes and brushwork, his use of his many seals, and his various styles of signatures and calligraphy, in his seminal work, Master of the Lotus Garden: The Life and Art of Bada Shanren (New Haven, 1990). As is common for album leaves, which this work likely was originally, this painting is unsigned but has Bada Shanren’s seal, he yuan (“lotus garden”).
Wang Fangyu notes in his colophon that Bada Shanren used this seal in 1702. In Master of the Lotus Garden, the dates given for the use of this seal are a bid broader, namely 1699 and 1705, the final years of the artist’s life. Wang Fangyu also notes in his colophon that the brushwork of this painting is consistent with other works by the artist during this period. Indeed, two monumental paintings by Bada Shanren with similar compositions—a pair of keenly alert eagles keeping watch atop rocks— one dated to 1702 and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the other painted around the same time and in the Shanghai Museum (Master of the Lotus Garden, fgs 120 and 122, respectively), show not only energetic birds with their energy focused in staring eyes but also a similar treatment of the feathers, through several well-articulated series of strokes in varying ink tones. Both paintings also have the same he yuan seal. The rocks on which the eagles stand in the painting now at the Met, and formerly owned by Wang Jiqian (C.C. Wang, 1907-2003), are painted with moist, quick horizontal strokes similar to those used in this lot.
This painting of a Bird and Rock, painted in the artist’s final years, shows the artist’s complete mastery of his craft, and quickly applied brushstrokes that effectively depict a rough rock while still verging on abstraction. Similarly, the characteristic visual aspects and spirit of the lively and alert bird are evocatively communicated by the artist’s quick and sure brushstrokes.