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Winged Spirits: Birds in Chinese Painting

February 11–August 12, 2012
Freer Gallery 13 and East Corridor

In Chinese culture many birds are endowed with strong symbolic associations, both on their own and especially in combination with certain auspicious flowers. In the tenth century, birds and flowers emerged as major themes in traditional Chinese painting. At first such images were based on the close observation of nature and employed fine detail and color; later they derived from the painting tradition itself and often were rendered in only ink. While the primary interest of many artists was to capture the essence or spirit of their subjects, most birds in the paintings can be scientifically identified. More than thirty-five species of birds are depicted in flight, on the ground or in water, or perched on tree branches.

Detail, Autumn Landscape with Birds and Berrie

Autumn Landscape with Birds and Berries; China, Qing dynasty, late 17th–18th century; handscroll; ink and color on silk; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1909.201