Flowers, Insects, and Bird Paintings

Li K'u-chan (1898-1983)
Mynah bird on a Palm Tree

Hanging Scroll, Ink and Color on Rice Paper, 37.5 x 17 in. (95 x 43 cm.)

Chu Griffis Collection #27Li K'u-chan, a native of Shantung, earned his reputation as a painter of flowers and birds through persistence, skill and endurance. Hunger in his early years, imprisonment during the Sino-Japanese War or distress through the "cultural revolution" could have broken him. He once compared himself to a worm because when it is cut into pieces each section survives. In 1918, at the age of nineteen, Li ventured into Peking, where he eked out a living by pulling a rickshaw. His intention was to study art. Four years later he enrolled in the National Art Academy in Peking (Beijing) where he studied by day, continuing to pull his rickshaw by night.

At the academy he majored in oil painting. In 1923 he met Chi Pai-shih, who later became one of the best known artists of the twentieth century. Chi encouraged Li K'u-chan to paint in a more traditional style. Their close master-student relationship lasted all of Chi Pai-shih's life. Chi had found in Li a true successor who painted familiar objects with boldness, simplicity and humor. As early as 1924, Chi Pai-shih inscribed one of Li's paintings with the words, "If Li Ku'chan does not gain repute when he is old, it must mean there is no God."

After graduation, Li taught at Hangchou, then Peking, but during the war years he had no teaching position and times were lean again. In 1949 Li accepted a teaching position at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, but the days of hardship were not over until after the Cultural Revolution. As his reputation grew his brushwork became bolder, stronger, steadier and more precise. Our painting was done just a year before his death and it represents one of his favorite subjects, mynah birds.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Farwell, parents of Nancy '73 and Sally '76, donated funds to purchase this painting.