Movement: Chinese Modernism
Education: Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris
Xu Beihong's Famous Artworks
“Slave and Lion,” 1924
“Horse Drinking,” 1938
“Three Lions,” 1938
“Portrait of a Lady,” 1939
“Put Down Your Whip,” 1939
“Seven Magpies,” 1942
“Two Horses,” 1943
“Beauty Standing Alone,” 1946
Xu Beihong was a Chinese painter and calligrapher, best known for his traditional
style ink and wash paintings of birds and horses. He was born in Yixing in 1895 and died in Beijing in 1953. Xu Beihong's paintings amalgamated the techniques and traditions of the Orient with Western thought and theory.
Xu Beihong's Early Life
Xu was born in the Jiangsu province of China in summer of 1895. His father Xu Dazhang began teaching him traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting from the age of six, for which he showed exceptional originality. In 1915 he left for Shanghai, working in commercial design to support himself before moving to Tokyo two years later to complete his education in art. He returned to China in 1918 and, with the help of Cai Yuanpei, found a position in the Faculty of Arts in Peking University. He met Jiang Bingwei in 1917, who he married later, and had two children with ten years later.
The European Influence on Xu Beihong
In 1919, Xu was accepted into Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and studied in the department of oil painting and drawing there. During his time in Europe, he was able to visit myriad galleries and museums and observe Western techniques and conventions. He spent nearly a decade developing an aesthetic that would marry the two varied systems of practice, eventually returning to China
in 1927. Over the following two years, he taught at various institutions and academies across the country and was appointed a professor at the National Central University in Nanjing in 1929.
Xu Beihong and The War Effort
Xu was a vocal advocate of Chinese painting abroad and in 1933 organized the first exhibition of modern art from his homeland to tour France
, Belgium and the Soviet Union. As World War II continued unabated, he traveled further into South-East Asia
, mounting shows and exhibitions in Penang, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, India
and Singapore, the proceeds from which were donated to Chinese refugees and victims of war.
In March 1939, he arranged a charity exhibition of Ren Bonian and Qi Baishi’s work, displaying over 170 canvases at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Calcutta. It was during this time that he met the Indian poet and literary figure Rabindranath Tagore, as well as Mahatma Gandhi, who was the inspiration for his large-scale painting, “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains.”
The European influence showed clearly in his large-scale paintings that employed Western perspective and composition, but was painted in the Chinese ink and brush style, with bold strokes; paintings such as “Portrait of Ms. Jenny” (1939) and “Portrait of Lim Loh” (1927). His Chinese-style paintings are mainly in black and white, with washes of red, yellows, blues and browns. Xu has depicted horses in all poses, and birds and other animals, such as lions and cats in the open, amidst nature. In 1945, he divorced his first wife, and married Liao Jingwen, and had two children by her.
Xu Beihong's Legacy and Death
After China became the People’s Republic in 1949, Xu became one of the most prominent painters and educators in the country, becoming the chairman of the China Artists Association and the official president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. As a product of both Western and Oriental schools of thought, he created a new kind of national art combining Chinese inking practices with foreign compositional elements and perspective. However, he believed the concept of an artwork superseded its technique and underlined the importance of real-life experience in forming an idea. His teachings have shaped national policies of universities and art colleges to date and he contributed greatly to the direction of the Chinese art world. Xu died of a stroke in September of 1953. His home in Beijing was converted into a museum of his work. You can buy Xu Beihong's paintings online.
Xu Beihong's Museums / Collections
Xu Beihong Museum, Beijing
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, Nw York
Books / Publications
“Xu Beihong: Life of a Master Painter” by Liao Jingwen and Ronald I. MillerXu Beihong (1895-1953)
“Xu Beihong: Pioneer of Modern Chinese Painting” by Ronald Otsuka and Fangfang Xu
“Xu Beihong” by Yu Yuan
“Xu Beihong” by Fu Ningjun