Xu Beihong

influential Chinese artist and art educator who, in the first half of the 20th century, argued for the reformation of Chinese art through the incorporation of lessons from the West.

Xu was first taught art in his childhood by his father, Xu Dazhang, a locally known portrait painter. In the period from 1919 to 1927, he studied in France and graduated from Paris Higher Art School He returned to China in 1927 and successively worked as a teacher in Shanghai South China College of Fine Arts He went to Beijing in 1946 and worked as the President of Public Beijing Arts and History School and the Chairman of Beijing Art Workers Association. In 1949, he was elected as the Chairman of National Painters Association by the representative conference of all-China literary and art workers.

Grazing Horse, dated 1932
Xu Beihong (Chinese, 1895–1953); Qi Baishi (Chinese, 1864–1957)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper; 20 1/2 x 14 3/4 in. (52.1 x 37.5 cm)
Inscribed by the artist and by Qi Baishi
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986 (1986.267.192)

This painting exemplifies Xu Beihong’s fusion of East and West. While employing the conventional Chinese medium of brush and ink, Xu’s drawing technique is purely Western. Rather than defining the horse with calligraphically energized outlines, Xu sketches the horse impressionistically with light and dark washes and uninked areas of white paper integrated to suggest the modeling effects of light and shadow. Reflecting studies from life, the horse’s complex pose—foreshortened body, twisting neck, and naturalistically placed legs—is deftly rendered in a few well-practiced brushstrokes, while the layered tones of the animal’s tail give the impression of movement.

Recalling a long tradition of the horse as an emblem of state, Xu Beihong’s spirited animals appeal to national pride. He painted so many of them that they have become synonymous with his name. This early example, still fresh in his mind and in execution, was done for Qi Baishi’s son on the occasion of a visit by Xu to Qi’s house. Qi explains in his inscription that Xu failed to bring his seals, which is why the painting lacks an impression.


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