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Magpies and Hare

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Sung dynasty

Ts'ui Po (fl. latter half of 11th c.), Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 193.7 x 103.4 cm 
Ts'ui Po, a native of Anhwei province, excelled at painting Buddhist and Taoist subjects, figures, landscapes, flowers, and animals. He was especially noted for his works in the genre of birds-and-flowers.

This painting depicts two magpies crying out at a solitary hare. The magpie, relative of the crow, is known for its ingenuity, gregarious nature, and tenacious protection of its territory from intruders. Here, a magpie is shown in the upper right corner about to land on a branch to assist the other one, which is perched there bending down and spreading its wings in a display against the intrusive hare. The hare, however, seems to realize that the magpies do not pose much of a threat, so it doesn't seem very frightened. In fact, it almost seems to stare at them calmly with an expression of "I can't even pass through?" Drawing an imaginary line from the upper magpie, through the tree, and down to the foreground, it would form of an "S," which not only integrates the composition but also creates balance and flow. The artist Ts'ui Po was also keen on highlighting the psychological tension of the scene by representing a strong wind that arches back the trees, bamboo, and grasses, thereby adding further energy and drama. This "slice of nature" is not something easily imagined in a studio or at home. Rather, the artist must have had years of artistic training and experience in the wilds in order to capture this naturalistic scene. Ts'ui Po, with his great artistic skill, has taken the essence of this event and translated it onto silk. Thus, through a combination of his skill with brush and ink as well as his close observation, a masterpiece in fine-line paintings such as this is slowly produced. On the vertical trunk to the right is Ts'ui Po's signature along with a date equivalent to 1061 AD.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum