Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Birds in plantain leaves

  • Description

    Cheng Shifa (1921-2007) acquired a reputation as an accomplished book illustrator and figure painter. However, he showed more interest in flower and bird paintings in his later years and published a volume of this genre in 1979. The three leaves displayed here [EA1995.175.i, EA1995.175.b, and EA1995.175.l] are from an album [EA1995.175] painted around that time, demonstrating looser brushwork than his figure paintings. Though generally regarded as a 'tropical foliage' plant, plantain trees (musa sp.) are widely planted in Chinese gardens. Plantain leaves have been favoured as one of the 'fourteen treasures' of scholars, as it was considered elegant to write on these leaves. It is said tha the calligrapher Huai Su (AD 725-AD 785), who was famous for his cursive calligraphy, was too poor to buy paper, so he planted many plantain trees and wrote on the leaves. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) scholar Li Yu also wrote poems on plantain leaves, which can be 'reused, when rain washes away the old writing.' The sound of rain drops on plantain leaves was also an important aesthetic aspect of Chinese gardens and appeared in many poems. On this painting, the vein and the smooth texture of the plantain leaves are represented by layers of wet ink, applied using the side of the brush.

  • Details

    Associated place
    AsiaChina Shanghai province (place of creation)
    Cheng Shifa (1921 - 2007) (artist)
    Material and technique
    ink and colour on paper
    mount 50.6 x 68.3 cm (height x width)
    page 46.7 x 53 cm (height x width)
    painting 34 x 42 cm (height x width)
    Material index
    Technique index
    Object type index
    No. of items
    Credit line
    Presented in honour of the forthcoming 70th birthdays of Jose Mauricio and Angelita Trinidad Reyes, 1995.
    Accession no.
  • Further reading

    Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 24 September-1 December 1996, Modern Chinese Paintings: The Reyes Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Vainker, Shelagh (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1996), no. 10 on p. 21

Past Exhibition

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    • currently in research collection

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