Brian Salter's Blogs:
Xu Beihong Memorial Museum


It’s been nearly a decade in the making, but the revamped Xu Beihong museum is finally open.

The most influential Chinese artist of the twentieth-century, Xu Beihong (1895-1953) is widely known as the father of modern Chinese painting. He was one of the first painters to merge Western and Chinese techniques, but he is probably best known for his ink paintings of horses, especially his pictures of galloping stallions painted in traditional Chinese style.

(Galloping Horse 1941)

(Group of Horses 1940)

Not only was he a master of horse drawings, but other animals, such as these Two Eagles (1939)

or this Wounded Lion (1938)

The first Xu Beihong Memorial Museum was his former residence – an elegant quadrangle-style house located at 16 DongShouluLu – which was donated by his wife, Liao Jingwen, to the government a year after his death in 1953. She also gave more than 1,200 of his original sketches, drawings, oil paintings, and Chinese ink brush paintings, as well as donating his entire personal collection, which encompassed calligraphy and paintings by accomplished artists of the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, not to mention a number of major works by Western artists. The residence formed the first art museum in China dedicated to a single artist and funded by the government.

But in 1966, Beijing began the construction of its subway system and, unfortunately, the original site was right in the way of the working area of Line 2. Together with the city’s old inner walls, the museum was demolished. It was not until 1973 that a new museum was built in its present location, following instructions from President Zhou. Ten years later, it was officially opened to the public with seven exhibition halls.

And so things remained for another 27 years until a major planned expansion of the museum forced its closure in 2010.

Finally in September 2019, just in time for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, it reopened in an almost totally-reconstructed building with more space devoted to his works. On show is a total of 1,286 of Xu’s own works, as well as 1,134 works by ancient well known artists that he had collected.

The new museum has some nice finishing touches, such as incorporating some of his most famous works onto the doors of the lift…

Xu Beihong was a master of both oils and Chinese ink; and as you pass each new corner, there is something else to delight the eyes, such as a number of cabinets filled with some of his most iconic paintings…

Born into a poor family in 1895 in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, Xu began studying classic Chinese works and calligraphy with his father Xu Dazhang , a self-taught artist, when he was six, and Chinese painting when he was nine. In 1915, he moved to Shanghai, where he made a living from commercial work. In 1916, he started to learn French at Fudan University and then, after a short study period in Tokyo, in 1917, he returned to China to teach at Peking University's School of Art.

But in 1919, he again went overseas, this time on a government scholarship to study in France at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied oil painting and drawing. His travels around Western Europe – primarily France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland – allowed him learn about Western artistic techniques.

He returned to China in 1927 and taught for the next two years at a number of institutions, including the National Central University (now Nanjing University). As a result, his creativity and teaching offered a new direction for Chinese artists and art educators. He was the first to systematically incorporate high-standard Western sketching from life and oil painting into the curricula at China’s major art institutions. Xu founded the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1950, and was also chairman of the Chinese Artists Association from 1949 until his death.

In 1933, Xu organized an exhibition of modern Chinese painting that travelled around France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and the Soviet Union. And between 1939 and 1941, during World War II, he held solo exhibitions in Singapore, India and Malaya to help raise funds for the war relief effort.

One of Xu’s close friends was fellow artist Qi Baishi. Here’s a photo of the two of them in 1953, when they attended the second congress of literary artists.

Of all Chinese painters in the past century, it is generally accepted that Xu was the most responsible for the direction taken in the modern Chinese Art world. The policies enacted by Xu at the beginning of the Communist era also continue to control not only official Government Policy towards the arts, but they continue to direct the overall direction taken in the various Art Colleges and Universities throughout China.

To get to the museum, take Line 2 to Jishuitan station, exit C. Walk south down XinjiekouBeiLu for a couple of hundred metres and the museum is on your right at building No 5.

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