Traditional 20th-Century Chinese Painting

To provide a reference point for what is to follow and to placate my Chinese friends, I present four painters of the old school in transition.

Qi Baishi

1864-1957 born Xiangtan, Hunan
as Qi Huang (齊璜)

Qi Baishi, 1960s

What is unique about Baishi is that his work shows no Western influences, unlike most other artists at this time. Other artists praised Baishi for his “freshness and spontaneity" that he brought to the familiar genres of birds, flowers, insects and grasses. Qi Baishi is particularly known for painting mice, shrimps, and crabs.

Trained as a carpenter, selftaught Qi wasn’t considered a mature painter until his mid-fifties (1920s). In 1881 Qi completed his apprenticeship as a carpenter and married his child bride Chen Chunjun. The couple had five children, three sons and two daughters of unknown names. In 1919 in Beijing his wife Chen Chunjun obtained 17-years-old Hu Baozhu as Qi's concubine with whom he had another four sons and three daughters.

The Final Irony

Qi Baishi, “Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree”, 1946

On October 28, 2013 the New York Times reported in a long devastating article on Chinese fakes:

When the hammer came down at an evening auction during China Guardian’s spring sale in May 2011, “Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree,” a 1946 ink painting by Qi Baishi, one of China’s 20th-century masters, had drawn a startling price: $65.4 million. No Chinese painting had ever fetched so much at auction, and, by the end of the year, the sale appeared to have global implications, helping China surpass the United States as the world’s biggest art and auction market.
But two years after the auction, Qi Baishi’s masterpiece is still languishing in a warehouse in Beijing. The winning bidder has refused to pay for the piece since doubts were raised about its authenticity....

Zhang Daqian

1899-1983 born Neijiang, Sichuan
as Zhang Yuan

Chang Dai-chien, 1970s

"Drinking and Singing at the Foot of a Precipitous Mountain", bought
1957 by Boston FAM as a Guan Tong (907-923)

Detail of the
huge Chinese silk painting, “Achensee” by
Zhang Daqian, which sold at auction for nearly 15 million U.S. Dollars (2010)

Lotus, ink painting

Zhāng Dàqiān was one of the best-known and most prodigious Chinese artists of the twentieth century. Originally a guohua (traditionalist) painter, by the 1960s he had also become known as a modern impressionist painter. Zhang is regarded as one of the most gifted master forgers of the twentieth century.
In 1940 Zhang Daqian led a group of artists to the caves of Mogao and Yulin for the purpose of copying their Buddhist wall paintings. The group completed over 200 paintings, and the experience left Zhang with a repository of religious imagery.
Due to the political climate in China in 1949, he left the country and lived in various places such as Mendoza, Argentina, São Paulo and Mogi las Cruzes, Brazil, and in Carmel, California, before finally in 1978 settling in Taipei, Taiwan.

Untitled, 1960s

Invitation to Rusticate, 196

Zhang's “splashed color” paintings, still in ink wash, show a color palette, which he must have gleaned from European impessionism

His virtuosity within the medium of Chinese ink and colour was so prodigious that it seemed he could paint anything. His output spanned a huge range, from archaising works based on the early masters of Chinese painting to the innovations of his late works which emulate the language of Western abstract art.
Zhang intentionally produced an unknown number of forgeries. He must have enjoyed to fool the Western experts. They have been purchased as original paintings by several major art museums in the United States, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Of particular interest is a master forgery acquired by the Museum in 1957 as an authentic work of the tenth century. The painting, which was sold as a landscape by the Five Dynasties period master Guan Tong, is one of Zhang’s most ambitious forgeries and serves to illustrate both his skill and his audacity.

Fu Baoshi
傅 抱 石

Painter 1904-1965 born Xinyu, Jiangxi

Fu Baoshi, 1964

Fu studied art history at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (1933). Later he taught at Nanjing Univerity, where he became the leader of the so-called 'New Chinese Painting Movement', which reformed traditional Chinese painting after 1949. Fu's reforms were followed by a group of artists at Nanjing. He was also the founder of the Nanjing-based 'New Jinling School of Fine Arts'.

By comparision to Zhang the younger Fu Baoshi adhered to conservative traditional subjects and ink painting techniques: nearly monochrome Qing and Tang themes modified by Japanese influences.

Gao Xinjiang

born 1940, Ganzhou Jiangxi lives in Bagnolet, France since 1998
Painter, poet, dramtist, novelist, Nobel Laureate in literature 2000

Gao Xinjiang, 2011

Gao Xinjiang is beyond question a genius in poetry, drama and writing. His paintings are poetic ink washes in the traditonal manner but in a Western expressionist style. Due to his Nobel fame, we know his life and development well.

Gao's father was a clerk at the Bank of China, and his mother was a member of the Young Men's Christian Association. For a while his mother was an actress in the Anti-Japanese Theatre during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Under his mother's influence, Gao enjoyed painting, writing and theater. In 1950, his family moved to Nanjing, where Gao entered the Nanjing Number 10 Middle School (later renamed Jinling High School) which was attached to Nanjing University. During his middle school years, he became fluent in French and read a lot of literature translated from the West, and studied sketching, ink and wash painting, oil painting and clay sculpture.

In 1957 Gao graduated, and, following his mother's advice, chose Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) instead of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, although he was thought to be talented in art.
In 1962 he graduated from the Department of French, BFSU, and then worked at the Beijing International Bookstore. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, he was sent to the countryside and did farm labour in Anhui Province. In May 1979, he visited Paris as an interpreter for a group of Chinese writers. In 1980 Gao became a screenwriter and playwright for the Beijing People's Art Theatre, where two of his plays were first produced. He became known as a pioneer of absurdist drama in China.
Misdiagnosed with lung cancer in 1986 Gao began a 10-month trek along the Yangtze, resulting in his novel 'Soul Mountain', which would earn him the Nobel prize in literature in 2000.

In 1983 his work was banned in China. 1985 Gao fled first to Germany then to Bagnolet, France and has been a French citizen since 1997.

Cité fantastique, 2011

La pensée sombre, 2008

Ciel et terre, 2008

Gao Xinjiang's beguiling ink-wash paintings