20 SEPTEMBER 2003, Page 38

Painter of butterflies

From Mike Smith Sir: In his essay 'Breaking the butterfly. (30 August) Paul Johnson speculated that one of the first butterfly paintings was done by a Frenchman in the 16th century. His guess missed the mark by about half a millennium and half a world. Huang Ch-tran (fl. AD 950) painted an album of models, 'Beautiful birds sketched from life', as a guidance workbook for his son. Buzzing among the birds he painted a dozen insects, presumably snacks for his beautiful birds. 'Bird-flowerinsect' painting has long been a major branch of Chinese art (along with figure

painting and landscape). Over the centuries, several artists devoted to insect-painting have flourished in China. Some of their works were shown in a special exhibition a few months ago in Taiwan's National Palace Museum, and can still be seen on the Internet. Particularly impressive is the four-metrelong handscroll by Chu Ju-lin, alive with dozens of butterflies and other bugs.

Mike Smith

Bangkok, Thailand