The full name of this painting is already written on the top right side of the painting, which is “beautiful orchid grown in deep valley mountain without being noticing by human beings.” This name suggests that the painting represents the artist’s appreciation of individuality, modesty and a clean life, and emphasizes the potential for growth in isolation: to cultivate one’s qualities, one does not need to seek approval from others.
Introduction: The Chinese painting tradition
The Chinese painting tradition involves images created by dipping brushes in water, ink and/or water colors on silk or paper. Figures, landscapes, flowers and birds are three important themes for Chinese painting. These subjects reflect artists’ consciousness of natural, philosophical, moral and cultural concerns, and different types of actions, settings and figures carry a number of symbolic meanings.
Orchids, in Chinese painting iconography, represent people who do not have the ambition to pursue fame and fortune, preferring instead a quiet, simple life. Since these beautiful flowers grow far from urban centers in deep mountain valleys, they are particularly apt symbols for the beauty of a clean, natural and humble lifestyle.
There are innumerable styles, schools and categories of Chinese painting, as is perhaps to be expected for such an ancient tradition. This elegant orchid painting can be included in the bird-and-flower category, and was painted using a freehand style and borrowing techniques from Chinese calligraphy. It is reminiscent of the Long City School.
There are two main ways to represent subjects in Chinese painting: the figurative, which closely imitates the subject’s physical appearance, and the impressionistic style, which involves artistic touches and flourishes that make the subject seem more pleasing, or that emphasize some of its different aspects. This painting straddles the two categories, as it is quite realistic, but depicts an orchid with more blooms and less leaves than would commonly be found in nature.
This monochrome painting makes great use of negative space around the orchids, and its lively asymmetrical composition is nevertheless well balanced. Ink orchids are classic images in the Chinese painting tradition, and this painting features beautiful, expert brushwork, making it a particularly fine example of the style. The specific tradition surrounding the bamboo image borrows considerably from Chinese calligraphy.