Qian Xuan was a renowned scholar of the Southern Song era. In 1279, when the Mongols conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty, Qian decided to renounce government service and dedicated the rest of his life to poetry and painting.
This painting best represents Qian’s innovative rendition of Chinese traditional flower-and-bird painting. When Qian undertook this painting, the theme was old and instantly recognizable. But Qian, schooled in the realistic Song style, and using an established subject and design, expressed the traditional theme in an entirely different way, creating a new style through his flattened forms and expressive brushwork. In this way, he tried to convey his feelings of loss and nostalgia under Mongolian rule. The muted colors and the deliberately compressed images of the doves perched on the equally unreal pear branch evoke neither the vitality of spring nor the lyrical mood associated with spring rain found in most Song works. Instead, we feel only a remote and detached sense of loss and sorrow.
Apparently, Qian was using the birds and flowers to portray his own state of mind as he confronted the alienation and seclusion of his life as a Song loyalist. His personal and symbolic representation of this traditional subject not only set his painting apart from the Song tradition, but also sparked a new trend in Yuan painting.