Ding’s attempts to synthesize the East with the West are best exemplified by his oil paintings with a Chinese flavour. This painting transports the viewer to a corner of his studio, where an easel and a picture are placed. The blue tiles of the floor and the orange walls form a remarkably strong contrast. On the easel, there is an oil painting of a cat in the style of what has come to be known as the ‘one-line drawing’, an art form Ding created in the latter part of his life. It is usually done in ink on Chinese xuan paper, but here it has appeared on the canvas of an oil painting. There are mysterious symbols in the picture, too: there is a stylised fish hanging on the easel. The calendar on the wall indicates “17”. At the lower left, there is a Chinese character in seal script, “yan”, meaning “goat”. These seemingly unrelated elements give a surreal touch to the painting, and represent Ding’s assimilation of iconic elements in his art. It can be interpreted in both Chinese and Western artistic terms, and therefore epitomizes his success in overcoming the differences between the two and finally coming into his own.


  • Title: Painting in painting
  • Creator Lifespan: 1902 - 1978
  • Creator Nationality: Chinese
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Hong Kong, China
  • Creator Birth Place: Maoming, Guangdong, China
  • Date Created: c.1960s
  • Theme: Still-life, Studio
  • Physical Dimensions: w60 x h91 cm
  • History of Donation: Donated by Mr James Wong to the Museum in 2009.
  • Chinese Painting teacher at Department of Fine Arts of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Painter: Ding Yanyong
  • Artist's Biography: Reputed as “Matisse of the East” and “Bada Shanren of modern times”, Ding Yanyong (1902 - 1978) explored his own artistic path to span the boundaries of Chinese and Western art, thus adding a glorious chapter to the history of Chinese art in the 20th century. In the 1920s, he left his Guangdong hometown for Japan and enrolled in the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. He took the styles of Matisse and Fauvism as the basis of his own art, and became an active promoter of modern art and art education after his return to China. From the 1930s, he began studying Chinese painting through the art of Qing masters Bada Shanren (1625 - 1705), Shitao (1642 - 1707) and Jin Nong (1687 - 1764) and collecting ancient implements which marked a life-long exploration of synthesizing Chinese and Western art. In 1949, he moved to Hong Kong where he lived alone. In 1956, he helped to start a special art course at the New Asia College (the predecessor of the Department of Fine Arts of The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and taught there until he passed away in 1978. Over the years, he faced adversity with stoic stamina and continued his artistic pursuit. With his mastery of a diverse spectrum of media for creation, i.e., painting in oil and ink, calligraphy and seal-engraving, he was able to achieve an interplay that was to form his original and iconic style.
  • Type: Oil on board

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