Finches and bamboo

Artist: Emperor Huizong (Chinese, 1082–1135; r. 1100–25)

Period: Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)

Date: early 12th century

Culture: China

Medium: Handscroll; ink and color on silk

Dimensions: Image: 13 1/4 × 21 13/16 in. (33.7 × 55.4 cm)
Overall with mounting: 13 3/4 in. × 27 ft. 6 5/16 in. (34.9 × 839 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: John M. Crawford Jr. Collection, Purchase, Douglas Dillon Gift, 1981

Accession Number: 1981.278


Huizong, the eighth Song emperor and a rapacious collector of art objects, was a painter and calligrapher of great talent. In 1127, Huizong's capital at Bianliang (modern Kaifeng, Henan Province) was sacked by the Jurchen, and the emperor was carried off to the north; he died in captivity in 1135.

Finches and Bamboo illustrates the suprarealistic style of flower-and-bird painting preferred by Huizong's Imperial Painting Academy. In such works, the artist displayed his intimate knowledge of the appearance and growth of plants and his ability to render accurately the movements of birds as they hop about or stand poised ready for flight. Whether making a study from nature or illustrating a line of poetry, however, capturing the spirit of the subject was valued above mere literal representation. Here, the minutely observed finches are imbued with the alertness and sprightly vitality of their living counterparts. Drops of lacquer added to the birds' eyes impart a final lifelike touch.