國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum (New window)

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:::Title: Introduction

Bian Wenjin (ca. 1356-ca. 1428), an important court painter of bird-and-flower subjects during the early Ming dynasty, flourished from the Yongle (1403-1424) to Xuande (1426-1435) reigns. His style continued in the tradition of fine brushwork and vivid colors from the Northern Song school after the artist Huang Quan (ca. 903-965) combined with the atmosphere achieved by Southern Song academy painters.

Bian Wenjin's signature on "Three Friends and a Hundred Birds" reads, "In the seventh month of the guisi year of the Yongle reign (1413), Bian Jingzhao (Wenjin) of Longxi painted 'Three Friends and a Hundred Birds' at the official's residence in 'Chang'an'." In the old days, people often referred to the capital at the time as "Chang'an" (or "Eternal Peace"), so here it indicates that the painting was done at Nanjing and, judging from the signature, perhaps on imperial order as well. The main framework of the painting consists of pine, bamboo, plum blossom, and rock motifs interspersed with nearly a hundred birds, thereby creating an extremely decorative quality. The brushwork for the outlines and texturing of the rocks and slope as well as the plum branches is relatively loose, but the painting as a whole is still based on the technique of outlines filled with colors, revealing a neat and beautiful manner that accorded with court taste. Many Ming dynasty court paintings also have auspicious overtones. In this case, the "Three Friends of Winter" represented by pine, bamboo, and plum blossom symbolize the integrity of a gentleman who does not wither under adversity. The word for "bamboo" in Chinese is also a homonym for "blessing," the pine further symbolizing longevity to make this work a birthday blessing for longevity. A total of 97 birds are shown here. Though not corresponding to the number mentioned in the title, the word for "hundred" in Chinese can also mean "plenty." An auspicious number, in the case of paintings done for the court it can be interpreted as "The Hundred Birds Pay Homage to the Phoenix," an expression of great reverence.

Another feature of "Three Friends and a Hundred Birds" is the artist's use of a more natural arrangement to present the motifs. The setting of the painting as a whole is natural and rustic, like what you would find on some country hillside where many birds have gathered. In nature, however, one would never find so many different kinds of birds all together at the same time. Whether on the ground or among the branches, they are nonetheless depicted according to their nature, making this both a lively and lifelike rendering. For this reason, it is almost as if one can hear a cacophony of birds when standing in front of the painting, demonstrating that Bian Wenjin was indeed a keen observer of nature. Thus, one of Bian's seal impressions here, "Know More of Flora and Fauna," testifies precisely to an important message in this painting.

"Three Friends and a Hundred Birds," Bian Wenjin, Ming dynasty

''Three Friends and a Hundred Birds,'' Bian Wenjin, Ming Dynasty (New window)Line drawing of Bian Wenjin's ''Three Friends and a Hundred Birds'' (New window)
  • 01Spotted-necked Dove (A, 1)
  • 02Japanese Waxwing (A, 1)
  • 03Yellow-billed Grosbeak (B, 1)
  • 04Eurasian Blackbird (A, 1)
  • 05Japanese White-eye (A, 4)
  • 06Scarlet Minivet (C, 2)
  • 07Black-throated Laughingthrush (A, 2)
  • 08Azure-winged Magpie (A, 2)
  • 09Japanese Waxwing (A, 1)
  • 10Fork-tailed Sunbird (D, 1)
  • 11White-throated Rock Thrush (A, 3)
  • 12Scaly-breasted Munia (A, 4)
  • 13Red Turtle Dove (A, 1)
  • 14Vinous-throated Parrotbill (A, 2)
  • 15Crested Myna (A, 3)
  • 16White Wagtail (A, 1)
  • 17Slaty-blue Flycatcher (D, 2)
  • 18Eurasian Tree Sparrow (A, 28)
  • 19White-whiskered Laughingthrush (D, 1)
  • 20Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (A, 1)
  • 21Orange-bellied Leafbird (A, 1)
  • 22Great Tit (A, 3)
  • 23Oriental Magpie Robin (A, 2)
  • 24Red-billed Leiothrix (A, 3)
  • 25Chinese Hwamei (A, 1)
  • 26Siberian Blue Robin (C, 1)
  • 27Arctic Warbler (A, 1)
  • 28Chestnut-cheeked Starling (D, 1)
  • 29Barred Buttonquail (D, 1)
  • 30Light-vented Bulbul (A, 1)
  • 31Japanese Bush Warbler (D, 3)
  • 32Common Redpoll (A, 1)
  • 33Oriental Skylark (A, 1)
  • 34Masked Laughingthrush (A, 1)
  • 35Greater Short-toed Lark (C, 1)
  • 36Daurian Redstart (A, 2)

A-Corresponding to a known bird species

B-Somewhat generalized, but still an identifiable bird species

C-Identifiable, but problematic and not with complete certainty

D-Only roughly identifiable, bird species cannot be confirmed

 -Unidentified species of bird

Bird identification: Ching-Sung Juan, Watson Liu, Ping-Du Lee (Wild Bird Society of Taipei)
Drawing: Shaung Feng (Wild Bird Society of Taipei)