A rare exhibition of modern works by oil painting masters from Zhejiang Province is under way at Zhejiang Art Museum. Works on display, through February 12, date back from 1912 to the present, recording 100 years of oil painting development in the eastern province.
"The history of Zhejiang's oil painting is the epitome of the history of China's oil painting. For a century, Zhejiang has been a major cultural center of oil painting art," said Xu Jiang, headmaster of the China Academy of Art and one of the curators of the exhibition.
In 1912, master Li Shutong (1880-1942) started to teach oil painting at Zhejiang Normal University (modern-day Hangzhou Normal University), heralding a new chapter for Chinese modern art.
Only a few of Li's works remain today. The exhibition displays a rare work "Naked Woman" painted by Li, which reflects the pioneering painting style 100 years ago in China.
In the 1920s, when Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940) set out to promote art education, he established the present-day China Academy of Art in Hangzhou and appointed Lin Fengmian (1900-91) headmaster to develop Western-style paintings, calling on artists to try new media and techniques.
Thereafter, faculty and students "created beauty" and "changed people's interests to seeking beauty in life."
At the beginning, they imitated Western painting styles and techniques to portray Chinese villages, towns, working scenes and common lifestyles.
However, the painting styles changed when Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) started to combine oil painting with Chinese painting genres.
Wu created a distinct style that successfully assimilated Western abstract techniques with Chinese characteristics and modern conceptions, ushering in a new chapter for Chinese oil painting.
His artworks typify changes in Chinese oil painting, where artists held an inclusive and open attitude toward technique, and objective representation lost its importance in creation. They gradually developed a distinctive Chinese stream that differentiated itself from Western styles.
The exhibition also features a work by Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013), one of the most famous Chinese abstract oil painters. He learned painting at the CAA during the 1930s and taught painting at the academy during the 1940s.
Zao painted completely abstract works. He focused on the beauty of abstract forms, lines, colors and subtle tones. In May, his work "29.09.64" was sold for 248 million yuan (US$35.5 million) at a Hong Kong auction.
Another highlight of the exhibition is "Scene on a Bridge" by He Hongzhou, which depicts artists Lin Fengmian, Wu Dayu and Lin Wenzheng standing on the bridge spanning the Seine in Paris. The trio studied art in Europe in the 1920s. They all later became professors at the CAA, introducing Western art into China.
Lin Fengmian is revered as an Asian contemporary painting master, and his style is prized for being distinctively Chinese despite his use of Western visual language. Art history scholars regard him as a founding father of this branch of Chinese painting that emerged in the 1930s.
When he returned to China in 1926, he helped co-found the CAA, becoming its first principal, and therefore an important innovator in the area of Chinese art education.
The trio focused on oil paintings early in their career. But in the 1930s, when China was fighting the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945), the painters switched themes to patriotic sentiment and nostalgia.
CAA was established 94 years ago in Hangzhou. Its development history overlapped with the war history. Artists used brush and pen to create works that inspired people to fight.
They also portrayed the Chinese army during the war. The protracted war in China during World War II frustrated Japan's plan to expand north into Siberia to fight the Soviet Union. It also held back Japan from expanding south to fight the allied forces.
Even today, patriotism is still a major oil painting theme. Headmaster Xu, Sun Jinggang, Cui Xiaogang and Wu Dayong collaboratively painted the work "December of 1937, Nanking," which depicts the appalling Nanjing Massacre.
Date: Through February 12 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm
Venue: Zhejiang Art Museum
Address: 138 Nanshan Rd