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Two Owls; 貓頭鷹; Maotouying

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Two Owls; 貓頭鷹; Maotouying
  • Description

    Painting of two owls over a tree-branch, accompanied with calligraphy, in and colours on paper.

  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1977
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 48 centimetres (image)
    • Width: 45.5 centimetres (image)
    • Height: 86 centimetres (Mounted dimension)
    • Width: 58.4 centimetres (Mounted dimension)
    • Depth: 1.2 centimetres (Mounted dimension)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        lower left
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Translation

        Huang Yongyu, [year of] dingsi, spring
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Translation

        Owls have always had reputations of being both auspicious and inauspicious. I had been interested in these birds for years, painted them casually and had no intention of making oblique comments through the depictions [of owls]. That ridiculous woman Wang said these birds were inauspicious and made up complicated meanings. [Her] dreadful intentions and accusations were so clear that they needed not to be spelled out. [I] hear Wang has committed suicide. The ancient saying [of owls being] inauspicious has become a true portrayal [of her situation]. Fate makes fun of man in a bizarre way. For the amusement of [Yang] Xianyi. Inscription added by Huang Yongyu
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        lower left
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Transliteration

        wushi fuzhi
  • Curator's comments

    Barrass 2002:
    In 1974 the artist Huang Yongyu had exhibited a painting of two owls, one of which had one eye closed. He was vilified by Jiang Qing for this painting as an affront to Chinese Communism. He painted 'Auspicious and Inauspicious Owls' to celebrate the downfall of the Gang of Four.During the Cultural Revolution in March 1974, works of traditional ink painters, branded “Black Paintings”, were shown in China’s National Art Gallery in Beijing. A painting depicting an owl with a winking eye by Huang Yongyu was criticised as revealing “an animosity toward the Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the socialist system. ” At the end of the Revolution and after the arrest of the Gang of Four, including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing (1914-91), Huang Yongyu painted Two Owls. In the inscription he ridicules his former critics. The painting is dedicated to Huang’s close friend Yang Xianyi (b.1915-2009) and was given to the museum through Gordon Barras.


  • Bibliography

    • von Spee 2012 Cat.22 bibliographic details
    • Barrass 2002 p.270, fig.157 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    2010 12 Feb-15 May, Liverpool, Victoria Art Gallery and Museum, ‘Strokes of the Brush’

    May-Sept 2012, BM Galleries 91, 'Modern Chinese Ink Painting'

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Donated to the British Museum by Chinese calligraphers and painters through Gordon Barrass.

  • Department


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Ch.Ptg.Add.646 (Chinese Painting Additional Number)

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