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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Magpies, willow, and full moon
Date: 1978
Medium: Hanging scroll: ink and colors; finger painting on paper
Dimensions: Image: 41 5/8 x 13 inches (105.7 x 33 cm)
Credit Line: Acquired through the Membership Purchase Fund
Object Number: 80.067.003
Label Text: Chinese paintings that focus on details of nature often carry symbolic meaning. Magpies up high in a tree represent happiness, and a pair of them together in a willow tree, associated with springtime, can thus be read as embodying the wish for a couple to have joy in their relationship. The full moon (yueliang) is associated with the unity of the family, so Qian’s picture, which was painted not with a brush but entirely with his fingers, can be interpreted as a celebration of marriage and family.

Qian grew up in Yixing and later taught art in Wuxi until the Japanese bombing of that city. After World War II, he became politically active and joined the Communist Party. He enjoyed success as a painter until the Cultural Revolution, when he was criticized and sent to do hard labor in the countryside. Already in his seventies, this took a toll on his health and exacerbated the arthritis in his hands. Following the end of that tumultuous time, Qian’s reputation was restored—he received important commissions and was once again celebrated for his art. This picture was made in 1978, the year he suffered and recovered from a severe illness, following which he began to paint with his fingers. The subject is rather poignant considering the hardships of Qian’s life. While the birds appear a bit bedraggled, they have survived together to enjoy another spring, attesting to the devotion of family as a source of strength in the face of adversity. (“Moon," curated by Ellen Avril and presented at the Johnson Museum August 25, 2018-January 13, 2019)

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.