Exhibition of 19th Century Bird Art Opens In Beijing

In February, when the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) asked me to help them identify the birds depicted in more than eight hundred old paintings, I was both honoured and daunted.  The paintings date from the late 19th century and are thought to be by French missionaries, including Pierre Marie Heude.  The identifications would be used to create captions for a planned exhibition in Beijing beginning in late March.  Despite the doubt running through my head about whether I would be able to distinguish 19th century depictions of Chinese leaf warblers, I said yes.

The collection of exquisite paintings depicts more than 460 species, around one third of the species recorded in China.  Thankfully, there are no leaf warblers amongst them and, given the French have a tradition of producing outstanding painters, my task was not as difficult as I feared.

Swinhoe’s Rail is one of the species depicted in the exhibtion.
This painting of a Wryneck dates from 1877.
One of three paintings in the collection depicting Baer’s Pochard.

Fast forward a month and I found myself suited up and on a panel of speakers, alongside the French Ambassador, at the opening of the exhibition at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.

Terry speaking at the opening ceremony.

After the short speeches, a group of local schoolchildren put on a fantastic mini play about the importance of protecting birds and their habitats.  It was heartwarming to see young people enthused about wild birds and aware of the threats they face, from habitat loss to illegal hunting.

Local schoolchildren perform a wonderful play about the importance of protecting wild birds.
Dressing up as an owl is fun!
One species I couldn’t identify..!
The French Ambassador, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, chats with the children after their performance.

The opening was covered by Beijing TV and the print media.  See here (in Chinese):



The exhibition is a superb way to engage the public about the rich and diverse avifauna in China.  As a famous conservationist once said “we want to protect what we love, but we can only love what we know”.  Awareness is the first step towards conservation.  As the opening ceremony closed, already school groups were filing in to enjoy the paintings.

Congratulations to CBCGDF for putting together a wonderful exhibition and a special thank you to Dr Zhou Jinfeng, Secretary General of the CBCGDF and his staff, including Linda Wong, for being such great partners during this adventure.. Also a big thank you to Lynx Edicions for allowing use of the text from Handbook of the Birds of the World about distributions and habitat preferences for individual species.

The exhibition, on the 10th floor of the New Poly Building at Dongsishitiao, runs until 13 April and is open from 0930 to 1630 daily.  Entrance is free.

Rare 19th Century Bird Art Discovered In China

An astonishing collection of more than 800 original paintings of China’s birds has recently been discovered.  The exquisite artwork thought to be by French missionaries, including Pierre Marie Heude, was found by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) and dates from the late 19th century during the Qing Dynasty under emperor Guang Xu.

Pierre Marie Heude, a missionary to China in the late 19th century, is thought to be the artist.

Heude was born in 1836 at Fougères in the Department of Ille-et-Vilaine, France.  He became a Jesuit in 1856 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1867.  He was sent to China in 1868 and, during the following years, devoted his time to the studies of the natural history of Eastern Asia, traveling widely in China.

He initially focused his attention on molluscs but then turned his attention to mammals and birds.  He helped to set up a museum of natural history at Xujiahui in 1868, the first of its kind in China.

The newly-discovered paintings were displayed, for the first time, to invited guests at a special event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 8 January and there will be a public exhibition in Beijing on 28 March.  It is hoped that the paintings may then be displayed around the country and overseas.

A very exciting find… Some photos of a few of the paintings are below.

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