Art Moment: ‘Flowers and Birds’ by Chen Mei (18th Century)

Chen Mei, Birds and Flowers, circa 1731, album leaf, ink and color on silk,
17 x 12 cm, Yale University Art Gallery.

The image of a bird in flight is rendered beautifully in this painting by the Chen Mei (1726 – 42) who served as a court painter in 18th-century China. Chen’s painting expresses the graceful swoop of the birds, both in flight and at rest. Created for Emperor Qianlong, it was part of an album of flowers, birds, insects and other animals.

It is interesting to note that the theme of birds in flight inspired Romanian sculpture Constantin Brancusi who greatly admired the way Eastern artists were to pare down details to capture the essence of a thing. While Chen’s painting includes many details that Brancusi eradicated, the essence of the curving lines of the birds and their flight greatly informed Brancusi’s minimalist sculptures.

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