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Xu Beihong: pioneer of Chinese Realistic Painting?

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  1. introduction
  2. Xu Beihong: A reform of Chinese painting towards more realism
    1. The political and social context of the Republican period
    2. The influence of Western art
    3. The emergence of a new doctrine of radical modernisation
  3. The revolutionary synthesis of Xu Beihong
    1. Xu Beihong's paintings back China
  4. Recognizing Xu Beihong as the pioneer of Chinese realistic painting
  5. Conclusion
  6. Illustrations
  7. Bibliography

Xu Beihong (1895-1953) was a native of Yixing in Jiangsu Province. His father, from whom he learned painting in his childhood, was also a painter. At the age of 20, Xu went to Shanghai to sell his paintings. In 1918, at the invitation of Cai Yuanpei, he went to Peking University to work as an instructor at the Painting Research Society and started to learn Western artistic skills there. The next year, as many of his counterparts, he went to Europe to study Western art: he arrived in Paris then moved to Berlin and Belgium.
Back in China a decade later, he provided his own synthesis of Eastern and Western arts based on Western classical realist painting so as to regenerate Chinese painting. As that time as nowadays, people tend to see him as the pioneer of Chinese realist painting: does he really deserve this title or is it rather a simplification?

[...] kind of modernisation, in the sense that realistic elements started to appear sometimes even in classical Chinese ink paintings. Even the most traditional artists of Xu Beihong's time were (at least) aware of the fact that there existed an alternative to ink painting since western style drawing and painting had become compulsory in the curriculum of all schools. Therefore they started to perceive Chinese techniques as a language amongst others. Many artists in this early 20th century started to feel some limitations in Chinese painting. [...]


[...] Whether he was really or not the pioneer of Chinese realistic painting is of course questionable. But, what counts is that he was viewed as being so by his counterparts. He therefore was highly respected and, thanks to his diverse positions, very influential in the sphere of Fine Arts and could thus have conveyed his ideas to a whole generation of artists. Illustrations fig.2 (left) Xu Beihong: calligraphy (1943) fig.3 (right) Xu Beihong: calligraphy couplet (1938) fig.6 Xu Beihong Tian Heng and His 500 Retainers (1928-1930) fig.7 Xu Beihong Magpie on Maple branch (1944) fig Xu Beihong Galloping Horse (1944) Bibliography On Chinese Modern Art: Clarke, David (2000), Modern Chinese Art, Hong-Kong: Oxford University Press. [...]

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