Painting: Children and Goldfish 必有馀慶 - ROM2018_16344_1


Painting: Children and Goldfish 必有馀慶

Maker: Liu Yanyi
Medium:Hanging scroll, ink and colour on paper
Geography: China
Date: Dated 1888
Period: Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911
Ht. 60.3cm x Wt. 104.7cm
Object number: 920.21.29
On view
Gallery Location:The Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume

This picture shows four children playing around a square fish tank. Some faces are lit up with pleasure, and others are gazing at the goldfish. One of them cannot help but reach for the fish. The figures are vivid and natural with exquisite and expressive facial features. “Must have surplus to celebrate” (biyou yuqing 必有餘慶) is written on the top right of the picture. The image of “fish” serves as a visual pun here for having “surplus,” as the word yu (fish) is a homophone for yu (extra).1 According to the inscription and the seal, the painter is Liu Yanyi, who made this painting in the year of wuzi 戊子, or 1888.

The theme of the painting is typically called yingxi 嬰戲 or “children at play,” which has been an established subject in traditional Chinese painting since the Tang and Song periods.2 The pictorial design of this painting is a popular one. A painting titled Yingxi tu 嬰戲圖 (“Picture of Children at Play”) in the Capital Museum collection in Beijing, China, shares the exact composition of this painting, except instead of watching fish, the boys are playing cards.

Although it is a scroll painting, the content, artistic style, and inscription in li calligraphic style of the painting strongly call to mind a woodblock print. As a matter of fact, images of block-printed New Year pictures often imitated scroll paintings through their use of imprints. Such prints were widely sold because of their low prices. In comparison, the painted version, such as this one done by Liu, must have been considered a high-end New Year picture for wealthier people who were willing to pay more.

1 Laing discusses carp and goldfish in Chinese New Year pictures in her essay, “Carp and Goldfish as Auspicious Symbols and their Representation in Chinese Popular Prints,” 97-109.

2 See Laing, “Auspicious Images of Children in China,” 47-52.

Publication: Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints. (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 78-79.

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