Colorful flower-and-bird paintings were created by courtpainters during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) to decorate the grand halls of imperial palaces, where they could also serve as metaphors for the emperor and his court. Yin Hong, a third- generation court painter, was recognized for his skill at depicting “feathers and fur.”
This handsome painting evokes the passage from winter to spring with a combination of camellias and blossoming plum. The rocks, water, trees, blossoms, and birds are treated here as stylized formal elements in a grand design. Dark washes of ink and vigorous strokes form interlocking planes of strong, flat forms. Rich green leaves and red-and-white blossoms animate the central diagonal with touches of brilliant color. The birds—little bulbuls and the red-breasted minivet (on the prunus branch), partridges (lower-right foreground), and brown-eared pheasants (on the rock cliff)—contribute to the patterned effect and tactile richness of the surface. Beyond its highly decorative qualities, the subject of the painting is also an allusion to imperial allegiance; the pheasants are symbolic of bravery and steadfastness, while the partridges represent the faithful followers of the emperor.