This painting of two singing magpies on branches is either by or after the artist Ch'en Chung-Mei of the Yüan Dynasty, ca. 1279-1368, or later. The work is an album painting. Albums typically held a group of paintings and/or works of calligraphy on related subjects made either by one or several artists. Because of the modest size of each painting or "leaf," the artist typically endeavored to delineate what was essential to the subject rather than undertaking a more fully-realized composition. Moreover, album leaf paintings were not intended for display but for reflection and study, much in the manner of a book. The album leaf format was already found in the T'ang dynasty (618-907), and its use for mounting works of painting and calligraphy perhaps derived from Buddhist sutras. Handscroll sutras from the Six Dynasties period (222-589) were mounted into albums during the early T'ang in order to facilitate research and reading.
Laufer, Berthold. T'ang, Sung and Yüan Paintings Belonging to Various Chinese Collectors. Paris and Brussels: G. Van Oest and Co., 1924, 17, pl. 29.
"Seldom Seen," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., April 21, 2014.
Purchased from C.T. Loo, New York, New York, inv. no. 5101, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1924.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 1924-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.