In the late Qing Dynasty, Chinese painting school headed by four artists surnamed Wang (Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, Wang Yuanqi) in Beijing began to decline, and the emerging city Shanghai which combined Chinese and Western features, with its rapid economic development, attracted a large number of artists from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and they gradually formed "Shanghai Painting School" with a new artist style that suits both refined and popular tastes. Ren Bonian was one of them. His works incorporate traditional literati paintings with folk arts, which reflect typical characteristics of Shanghai art style.
This painting is the portrait of Ren Bonian’s grandfather Zhao Dechang Ren and Zhao’s wife. Ren created this painting at the age of 45, when portrait style painting was on its most mature stage. In this painting, the elderly couple sits still on the chair. Their faces and expressions are meticulous depicted, with lines to make the outline and adding dry brush or light shading in turning points of facial structure. Such technique to present light and dark contract is obviously referred to Western paintings, through which we could know that Ren Bonian cleverly adopted sketching techniques he learned in Art Museum of Shanghai Xujiahui Catholic Church in traditional paintings. The figures and dresses are outlined concisely and precisely; the fur coat worn by the men and hand stick and beads held by the women are finely depicted with their different textures fully presented. The carpet is decorated with image of cranes and clouds which symbolize longevity and auspicious, echoing the theme of elders’ portrait.


  • Title: Portrait of Zhao Dechang and His Wife
  • Creator: Ren Bonian
  • Date: 1885
  • Provenance: National Art Museum of China
  • Physical format: painting, 148.5h x 80w cm
  • Medium: ink and colors on paper
  • Artist's birth and death date: 1840-1896

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