Chinese modern art maestros celebrated in unique exhibition

Wang Jie
50 artworks by 20th century heavyweights Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi are featured at Long Museum West Bund.
Wang Jie
Chinese modern art maestros celebrated in unique exhibition

"Riverside View of Splendor," ink and color on paper, Zhang Daqian, 1946, provided by Long Museum

Chinese modern art maestros celebrated in unique exhibition

Part of the "Flower and Fruit Book," Qi Baishi, provided by Rong Baozhai

Fifty artworks created by two heavyweight peers who dominated Chinese modern art in the 20th century are featured at one of the year's best exhibitions at Long Museum West Bund.

The "Southern Zhang and Northern Qi: Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi Special Exhibition" comprises works on loan from Long Museum and Rong Baozhai Beijing, one of the oldest Chinese auction houses.

After its debut in Shanghai, the exhibition, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of Long Museum and 350th anniversary of Rong Baozhai, will travel to Beijing.

It has always been a tradition to categorize Chinese culture and art into "Southern Style" and "Northern Style" due to the different geographic locations and historical vicissitudes.

For most of the time, the division of "Southern" and "Northern" also refers to the representative figures of the two regions, such as Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi in this case.

Born into a farming family in Xiangtan in Hunan Province, Qi Baishi (1864-1957) began to learn carpentry at the age of 12 and later taught himself painting, poetry, calligraphy and seal cutting. During his youth, he travelled around China to seek inspiration from nature while ardently studying the masterpieces of early Chinese painters.

As a result, his painting was greatly influenced by masters such as Xu Wei (1521-1593), Bada Shanren (1926-1705) and Wu Changshuo (1844-1927). It was not until he was 57 that Qi settled in Beijing.

Qi was a painting pioneer who brought freshness and spontaneity to traditional subjects on rice paper, varying from birds, flowers and insects to scenery and landscapes. Different from most other artists of his time, his works show no Western influence.

The highlight of the Shanghai exhibition is Qi's "Figure Book" that vividly depicts a group of ancient figures with various postures and expressions in different scenarios. Qi uses very succinct and simple brushwork.

Widely considered as one of the greatest Chinese painters of the 20th century, Qi is noted for fusing Chinese tradition with innovative forms and style.

"The excellence of a painting lies in its being alike, yet unlike," Qi once said. "Too much likeness flatters vulgar taste, while too much unlikeness deceives the world."

His peer, Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), is also one of the best-known and most prodigious Chinese artists of the 20th century.

Born into a family of artists in Neijiang, Sichuan Province, Zhang studied textile-dyeing in Kyoto, Japan. From 1941 to 1944, he went to Dunhuang in Gansu Province to make replica paintings in the Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes.

Zhang copied 276 murals and founded a new school of painting based on ancient Buddhist art.

After a successful career in Shanghai, he left China in 1949. His ensuing period of extensive travel included living in various places such as Argentina, Brazil and the US, before settling in China's Taiwan in 1978.

These rich overseas experiences had widened his horizons, and finally Zhang managed successfully to merge both traditional and modern skills, creating the splash ink method, particularly splash color, a style corresponding to abstract expressionism in the the West and gaining him a worldwide reputation.

In 1956, Zhang Daqian met Pablo Picasso in Nice, France. It is interesting that the Spanish master told him that he was an admirer of Qi Baishi and his own majestic brushstrokes were also influenced by the Chinese painter.

Exhibition Info

Dates: Through October 16 (closed on Mondays), Tuesdays-Thursdays, 10am-6pm; Fridays-Sundays, 10am-8:30pm

Venue: Long Museum, West Bund

Address: 3398 Longteng Ave

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