In the mid-nineteenth century, the Opium War opened the prelude to the modern Chinese history. This historical change liked a rock thrown into the lake, arousing full range of social change in China. This shock also spread to culture and art field; western culture started to swarm into Chinese land; Chinese and Western culture and ideology began to have collisions.
With the introduction of western paintings to China, there emerged various types of paintings. “Chinese painting” became a concept especially referring to Chinese national painting so as to distinguish Chinese paintings from foreign paintings. The May 4th Movement had a great impact on traditional culture. However, on the other hand, the external strength forced Chinese painting to change the status of imitating ancient paintings in Qing Dynasty and liberate from single taste of traditional literati painting. The innovation and creation of classical paintings within its own category had become the main idea of modern Chinese painting and its value orientation also moved towards pluralism.
Although paintings selected in this unit can not present the panorama of modern China painting, from these paintings, people can still see when Chinese painting follows tradition since the mid nineteenth century, how to respond to changing times and show a rich look under the guide of its own painting logics at the same time.
During this process of exploration, Chinese painting went from tradition to modern, forming three types of creation, namely “change based on the tradition”, “carry on the old and create new” and “introduce the West to enrich the East”, which greatly expanded the aesthetic dimension of Chinese paintings and inspired modern vitality of Chinese painting.
Shanghai Painting School
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.
Portrait of Zhao Dechang and His Wife -- Ren Bonian
In Chinese paintings, vegetables, fruits and flowers are often endowed with special symbolic meanings, for example, peach symbolizes longevity and it has always been favored by painters.
Chrysanthemum growing in cold winter is often praised in Chinese culture and Chrysanthemums are thought to be noble-minded.
Peach Fruit of Three Thousand Years -- Wu Changshuo
Beijing art circle
Chen Shiceng (1876-1923), born in a family of scholars, studied in Japan and majored in natural history during his early years. Since 1913, he began to settle in Beijing. He initiated and participated in almost all important calligraphy societies and activities in Beijing, and was recognized as the leader of Beijing art circle and an important representative of reformed literati paintings after Wu Changshuo.
Qi Baishi (1864 - 1957) was born in a peasant family. He was a carpenter in his early years and then became a professional painter. He is a representative figure of Chinese painting innovation and transformation, enjoying a high reputation both at home and abroad.
Ears by the Other Side of the Wall in Beijing Customs -- Chen Shiceng
Album of Plants and Insects Painting -- Qi Baishi
This series of plants and insects painting album was created in 1924; it comprehensively displays Qi Baishi’s seeking for breakthrough in paintings. The painter, with his master-hand skills, captured every act and every move of small lives in the universe, matching plant flowers in free-hand style and insects in fine sketching. On the one hand, the seta on grasshopper’s legs can be clearly seen; grasshopper’s soft texture and yellow moth’s wings are delicately portrayed. On the other hand, the sketch of tree branches and leaves makes the whole album a combination of both dynamic and static, density and spacing, creating a strong visual contrast and also unified charm. Qi Baishi integrated flowers and insects which are commonly seen in the nature with his simplicity and modesty, converting the weak and sad in old literary works to vitality and abundance.
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - winged insects
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - grasshopper
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - wasp
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - grasshopper
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - cyan moth
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - green moth
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - yellow moth
Album of Plants and Insects Painting - ink moth
Xu Beihong (1895-1953) adhered to the innovative spirit of “transforming traditional Chinese paintings”, and created a lot of works based on real life and expression of subjective feelings. He absorbed western style technology language and highlighted figures portrait, characterization and plots.
Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) is a modern Chinese painting artist and an outstanding art educator. He was the earliest advocator and a main representative of “fusion of Chinese and Western art styles” in early twentieth century.
Jiu Fang Gao -- Xu Beihong
Lin Fengmian’s exploration of Chinese and western integration is reflected in every aspect. First, as of the size and composition of his works, they are quite different from traditional Chinese painting. His works mostly adopt square shaped composition, which is more suitable for modern living room space, and now has been widely accepted in Chinese paintings. However, during the times of Lin Fengmian, such square shaped composition was quite new and fresh in China. This painting Autumn Heron just adopts such style.
Autumn Heron -- Lin Fengmian
Satire on Fair Ladies
The weather’s fine in the third moon on the third day,
By riverside so many beauties in array.
Each of the ladies has a fascinating face,
Their skin is delicate, their manner full of grace.
Embroidered with peacocks and unicorns in gold,
Their dress in rich silks shines so bright when spring is old.
What do they wear on the head?
Emerald pendant leaves hang down in silver thread.
What do you see from behind?
How nice-fitting are their waistbands with peals combined.
Among them there’re the emperor’s favorite kin,
Ennobled Duchess of Guo comes with Duchess of Qin.
What do they eat?
The purple meat
Of camel’s hump cooked in green cauldron as a dish;
On crystal plate is served snow-white slices of raw fish.
See rhino chopsticks the satiated eaters stay,
And untouched morsels carved by belled knives on the tray.
When eunuchs’ horses come running, no dust is raised;
They bring still more rare dishes delicious to the taste.
Listen to soul-stirring music of flutes and drums!
On the main road an official retinue comes.
A rider ambles on saddled horse, the last of all,
He alights, treads on satin carpet, enters the hall.
The willow down like snow falls on the duckweed white;
The blue bird picking red handkerchief goes in flight.
The prime minister’s powerful without a peer.
His angry touch would burn your hand. Do not come near!
Translated by Xu Yuanchong
Satire on Fair Ladies -- Fu Baoshi Yang Guozhong
Mrs. Guo Guo and Mrs. Qin Guo
Landscape of Lin'an (1950) by Huang BinhongChina Modern Contemporary Art Document
Landscape of Lin'an -- Huang Binhong
This painting created by Zhang Daqian depicts magnificent mountains of Mount E’mei in Sichuan, and is a typical ‘ink landscape’ style.
Since Tang Dynasty, Chinese landscape paintings have mainly developed two categories: one is the“Blue and Green” land scape created by Li Sixun and his son Li Zhaodao, another is ink landscape created by Wu Daozi and Wang Wei. Paintings in the former category are mainly in bright colors with sophisticated crafts, while paintings in the latter category are created in ink with light and fresh style.Since the late Ming Dynasty, Mo Shilong (1537-1587) and Dong Qichang (1555-1636)divided landscape painting styles into “Southern School” and “Northern School”.
Zhang did not stick to one pattern, but adopted both “blue and green” color and black ink, drawing the advantages of both genres and blend them harmoniously into a whole.Hisvision had transcended the limitations of Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Mount E’mei -- Zhang Daqian
Paintings of beautiful ladies by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983, born in Neijiang, Sichuan) can be divided into three stages:
1.Before 1930s,influenced by painters Ren Yi (1840-1896) and FeiDanxu (1802-1850) in late Qing Dynasty, ladies portrayed by Zhang were mostly in slender shapes.
2.During 1930s, Zhang learned from painters in Ming Dynasty such as Tang Yin (1470-1523), Wu Wei (1459-1508) and Chen Hongshou (1599-1652), so ladies he painted become soft but not weak.
3. In 1941, Zhang Daqian went to Dunhuang and made many copying of Dunhuang murals in two and a half years, learned figure painting style from the Six Dynasties to Sui and Tang Dynasties, so his paintings began to have obvious change accordingly in shape, line, color and other aspects.
A Lady Leaning on a Quilt -- Zhang Daqian
Guan Liang’s (1900-1983, born in PanyuGuangdong) ink paintings of opera figures may be deemed as by children at the first glance as they are slightly childish and innocent.This painting depicts the scene of “Broken Bridge”, in which the Green Snake Xiaoqing holding a sword is about to kill Xu Xian but his wife, the White Snake Bai Suzhen,is trying to stop her. The three persons’ movements and expressions in their eyes show their subtle relationship. Guan Liang is especially good at setting the picture at the most expressive moment, and his paintings are not narrations of grand events, but focus on characters’s love and hate feelings. We could enjoy dramas and experience feelings in his paintings,which are often small-sized but filled with wit and fun.
The Legend of the White Snake -- Guan Liang
Faced with her unfaithful beloved, BaiSuzhen’s eyes are filled with indignation and resentment.
Xu Xian is slightly nettled and regretfully looked at BaiSuzhen who is defending him, trying to explain something.
Pan Tianshou (1897-1971) learned paintings from Wu Changshuo in his early years. He pursed studying from the traditional and forming his own style.Since the foundation of new China, Pan Tianshou entered a peak period of his own creations. On one hand, he learned from famous phrase and words used as inspiration; on the other hand, he combined such inspiration with his real life experience, creating poetic ideas from the ordinary and transforming them into moving visual images, thus forming his own unique painting theme.
A Corner of Ling Yan Jian (brook along rocks) -- Pan Tianshou
Magnolias and Orioles (1956) by Yu Fei’anChina Modern Contemporary Art Document
Magnolias and Orioles -- Yu Feian
In Yu’s early years, he had apprenticeship from a folk artist, but the teacher did not teach him how to paint, but taught him to play crickets, birds, plant flowers and make pigment, thus he became quite familiar with their anatomical structure, characteristics and habits. Magnolia and orioles are vividly and carefully described, not in formal stereotype, forming an idyllic scene of birds and flowers, which lively appear on paper. This is because flower and bird paintings in Chinese fine brushwork are not “still life paintings", instead, they capture the dynamic states of flowers and birds with fine brushwork.
The art of Huang Zhou is pioneering, thus wining the recognition as one of the representative style of fine art of the New China. Huang based his artistic creation on the life of people in the new era, and relentlessly expanded the theme of “border areas” which he created. Huang’s thematic works have broken the obsolete rules that restricted traditional Chinese painting, and evolved into an art form that reflects the real life and keeps abreast with the development of the times. His sketch-like art language, based on contents from both history and reality, and from both home and abroad, has driven the creativity of brushworks and conception.
Snowy and Windy Foreworld -- Huang Zhou
This is one of the large-scale masterpieces of Chinese landscape painting created shortly after the foundation of the New China. Based on a poem by Mao Zedong, the painters Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue came up with the final work after several drafts, which reflects the orientation of thematic creation in landscape painting of the New China. With a tremendous size, this painting visualizes the scene of “the beautiful landscape clad in white snow in the rising sun” described in the poem, perfectly revealing the atmosphere that the literary work tries to create.
The Land is So Rich in Beauty -- Fu Baoshi, Guan Shanyue
Li Keran （1907-1989） is one of the representative figures of China’s painting since the 1960s. Tutored by Qi Baishi and Huang Binhong, Li inherited the painting skills of the two great masters of traditional Chinese painting in the early 20th century. After the founding of New China, Li helped to enrich the expressiveness of traditional Chinese painting by introducing elements of western painting such as light and shadow, colors, etc. In the 1960s, Li created a series of works based on the poems of Chairman Mao Zedong, among which “Red over the Mountains as if the Forests are Dyed” is a representative one.
Red over the Mountains as if the Forests are Dyed -- Li Keran