Qi Baishi (Chinese, 1864-1957)
Lychees and Grasshopper, 19th - 20th century
Ink and color on paper 4 5/8 in. x 13 1/4 in. (11.75 cm x 33.66 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of The Chinese Collection of Sandra and Franklin Yee2005.94.6
Qi Baishi was born in 1864 to a poor peasant family in Hunan Province. It was not until he was twenty-seven that he began painting. He started with paintings of gods and portraits, and over time he learned to paint landscapes, birds, flowers, and human figures. After touring the country numerous times to study the works of Xu Wei, Bada Shanren, Jin Nong, and other Ming and Qing artists, he eventually settled in Beijing in 1918.
Although his rustic and unaffected style was not well received by most Beijing connoisseurs, Qi was encouraged by the painter Chen Shizeng to develop his own style rather than imitate masters. He dedicated himself to this and called it “carrying out reform at an advanced age.”1 The result of his “reform” was his iconic style, one which combined the populist-realist styles with that of the scholar-calligrapher. Qi’s style influenced subsequent generations of painters, such as his student Li Kuchan (1898–1983) and others, including Pan Tianshou (1897–1971) and Li Keran (1907–1989).
As seen in Lychees and Grasshopper, Qi’s subjects were often seasonal, as one might expect of a careful observer of nature; this painting’s subject suggests late spring or early summer. Qi characteristically contrasts the expressive, boneless (mogu) technique he used on the basket, lychees, and leaves with the sensitively observed grasshopper rendered in the fine-line (bai-miao) technique. Relatively rare in Qi’s oeuvre are landscapes, which, as seen here at left, retain his characteristic charm and embrace the literati ideal of zhuo (awkward). —EA