Xu Beihong is best known for his ink wash paintings, especially those of horses, carefully refined and rooted in Chinese culture, where the strokes become one with movement: like the ballerinas of Degas, they are numerous and essential. I also very much enjoy his other ink paintings of wildlife: the leisurely tigers, the curious cats, the noble roosters. Xu Beihong was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore, and his portrait of the author is one of my all-time favorite writer portraits. And just as beautiful are some of his oil paintings, of striking Chinese beauties and lusty landscapes. I chose his ducks because I like ducks a lot, and Xu Beihong managed so well to capture the birds’ funny faces with little crooked smiles. I think artists are reluctant to paint the more common waterfowl because they’re too funny, odd looking, and you have to be really secure in your talent to be able to pull off a duck or a goose without having qualms against them looking like a children’s book illustration or a satirical piece. Xu Beihong’s ducks are the more precious because they retain the playfulness, while also being high-art. Also, these are literally million dollar ducks: they sold at Sotheby’s for a pretty penny.