Artist Xu Beihong and His Family in Mao's China

11 Jan 2019

Xu Fangfang

Venue: Conference Room, ICWA
Time: 3:00 PM


The most influential Chinese artist and art educator in twentieth-century China, Xu Beihong (1895-1953) is widely known as the father of modern Chinese painting. Born into a poor family in 1895 in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, he learned Chinese classics and traditional Chinese painting from his father, a self-taught artist.

Xu Beihong gained a government scholarship to study in France and attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts. Between 1919 and 1927, he studied sketching and oil painting in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. Returning to China in 1927, he successfully integrated Western painting methods and techniques with traditional Chinese painting in order to develop Chinese painting. The human feelings and Chinese esthetics in his art have moved the hearts of many viewers throughout the world.

Xu Beihong pioneered China's art education. He was the first Chinese artist to systematically incorporate high-standard Western sketching from life and oil painting into the curricula at China’s major art institutions. From 1927 until his death in 1953, Xu Beihong trained several generations of students. 

Xu Beihong's Indian connection

At the invitation of Rabindranath Tagore, Xu Beihong came to India at the end of 1939, holding an exhibition at Visva-Bharati and another in Calcutta in the following year. Rabindranath Tagore had established Visva-Bharati to offer the studies of all the components of Eastern civilization in one place and Chinese civilization was one of Tagore’s major focuses. Rabindranath Tagore admired Xu Beihong's art and wrote introduction to Xu's exhibition. A most influential Chinese painter and teacher, Xu Beihong came to Santiniketan as the first Chinese visiting professor to Visva-Bharati, which had been eager to get a broad view of Chinese art. Xu Beihong lectured and demonstrated Chinese ink brush painting and calligraphy to Kala Bhavana students. Another purpose of Xu's sojourn in India was to gain public support there for China’s War of Resistance against Japan. Xu Beihong donated the entire proceeds from the exhibitions to help China's War of Resistance.

Xu Beihong's experience with Indian people and his interaction with outstanding cultural figures, including Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, enabled him to create during his year of residence there, a great number of masterpieces that exemplify the pinnacle of his artistic career.

About the Speaker

Xu Beihong’s daughter, will introduce her memoir. Galloping Horses: Artist Xu Beihong and His Family in Mao’s China describes how Xu Beihong’s family and legacy survived the turbulence of Mao’s ever-changing policies, which dictated the direction of art and music from 1949 through the devastating ten-year Cultural Revolution. This book offers untold experiences of Xu Beihong during this period.

Born and raised in China, Xu, Fangfang moved to the U.S. in 1981 and earned a B.A. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from Stanford University. In 2000, she became the founding director of the music department at Renmin University of China. She helped initiate and facilitate the first comprehensive solo U.S. exhibition of her father Xu Beihong’s work, presented by the Denver Art Museum, Oct. 2011-Jan. 2012. She has published several articles on Xu Beihong and his art, including “Xu Beihong, Pioneer of Modern Chinese Painting” in Arts of Asia 42, no. 1 (2012), and “Xu Beihong’s Life and Art” in Xu Beihong: Pioneer of Modern Chinese Painting, Denver Art Museum, 2011.



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