Fish Swimming Amid Falling Flowers

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Fish Swimming Amid Falling Flowers (落花遊魚圖)

Liu Cai (劉寀, active 1080-1120), Song Dynasty (960-1279)

Handscroll, ink and color on silk, 26.4 x 255.3 cm, Saint Louis Art Museum

       The beautifully painted silk surface of this hand scroll presents a lively aquatic scene. The story unfolds along the scroll from right to left, as delicate pink flower petals drift down into the pool, attracting the attention and appetites of slender silvery fish swimming below. One lucky fish with a petal in its mouth flees from envious pursuers down toward the depths and an underwater world teeming with life. Spiny rock fish cavort among the water weeds that hide spidery shrimp and swarms of small fry, while large carp and goldfish swim fluidly along. Vivid movement and the watery environment of marine life were specialties of the artist Liu Cai, a court painter who was renowned for representing his subjects down to the "very scales of a fish's tail." Although the scroll is unsigned, the painting is an acknowledged masterwork by Liu Cai and among the great rarities in Chinese painting.

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Liu Cai: Fish Swimming Amid Falling Flowers