In This Article Qi Baishi

  • Introduction
  • General Histories of 20th-Century Painting
  • Qi Baishi’s Oeuvre as Part of 20th-Century Chinese Art History
  • Beijing School of Painting (北京画派)
  • History of the Beijing Academy of Art and Qi Baishi’s Teaching Career
  • Biographies
  • Periodicals
  • Other Disciplines in Qi’s Oeuvre: Seals and Poetry

Chinese Studies Qi Baishi
by
Michaela Pejčochová
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0156

Introduction

Qi Baishi (齐白石) (b. 1864–d. 1957) is one of the most famous and widely recognized Chinese ink painters of the 20th century. Born in humble conditions in the Hunan province in southern China, he started to make his living as a wood carver and carpenter and occasionally painted subjects common in folk painting and religious topics. After moving to Beijing in 1919, Qi changed his style for innovative, bold renderings of landscapes and scenes in the bird-and-flowers genre. With these, he achieved fame in the 1920s and 1930s throughout China and gradually also in Japan, Europe, and America. After 1949, the Communist regime promoted him as a “national painter,” and Qi Baishi received a number of honors for the work that was, according to the leaders, always keeping with the socialist ideal. In 1956, the World Peace Council awarded him the Peace Prize. Besides a unique painting style, which combined the mastery of traditional ink and brush techniques with innovative compositions and use of color, Qi was also highly regarded for his calligraphy style, in which he was following in the footsteps of the masters of the turn-of-the-century epigraphic school. Seal carving is another discipline in which Qi excelled among his contemporaries, and a large number of seals carved with names and poetic lines in his personal style represents another peculiar phase of his oeuvre. The literature on Qi Baishi studies and his works can be generally divided into two groups: Chinese and non-Chinese scholarship. The non-Chinese scholarship is mainly concerned with the collections of Qi’s oeuvre outside China and specific qualities of his works, for which they have remained a permanent attraction for foreign collectors. Some of the non-Chinese works of the more general kind are concerned with determining Qi’s position in the turbulent development of Chinese art during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the works of Chinese authors, on the other hand, are concerned with Qi’s oeuvre as a whole, its style and position in the history of art, and compare it with those of other authors. Chinese scholarship has also paid much attention to different details of Qi’s biography, the historical circumstances related to the development of his style, and the large social network he was part of throughout his long career. Most recently, Chinese scholars have tried to describe in detail collections of his oeuvre scattered in museums around China. In 2005, the Qi Baishi Memorial Hall (Qi Baishi jinianguan 齐白石纪念馆) was opened as part of the Beijing Fine Art Academy Museum (Beijing huayuan meishuguan 北京画院美术馆), which is in charge of administering Qi’s legacy and publishes extensively on many aspects of his oeuvre.

General Histories of 20th-Century Painting

For most of his career, Qi Baishi worked in the tumultuous era surrounding the breakdown of the Chinese imperial system and the establishment of the new republic. This was accompanied by no less turbulent changes in the world of Chinese art, as well as the perception and evaluation of the Chinese art of the past. Qi Baishi did not belong to the radical reformists of Chinese painting; however, the changing situation in the art world also affected his work and the way he operated in the art market of the day. For understanding Qi’s art, it is therefore important to learn more about the general situation of the Chinese art world between 1850 and 1950. For getting acquainted with this era means learning about the different trends and schools as well as individual artists and their work. Sullivan 1996 is a standard companion. Sullivan 2006 supplies much of the same information, though simplified and assorted by artist, which is good for a simple information search. Andrews and Shen 2012 is the most up-to date publication available and presents the latest findings in Western scholarship, while Lü 2006 does the same in Chinese scholarship. Lang 1997 presents an expert view of the development of Chinese art in the 20th century as part of a general companion to the history of Chinese painting.

  • Andrews, Julia F., and Kuiyi Shen. The Art of Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

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    Latest publication on the entire history of 20th-century Chinese art by two scholars who have thus far published pioneering and groundbreaking articles on aspects of the social and political context of Chinese art in this period. A concise presentation of the up-to-date information based on a large scope of primary sources and secondary literature.

  • Lang Shaojun. “Traditional Chinese Painting in the Twentieth Century.” In Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. Edited by Richard Barnhart, 299–354. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

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    Concise survey of the development of traditional (i.e., brush-and-ink) Chinese painting in the 20th century by one of the most expert Chinese scholars. A rare occasion to read a piece of “Chinese scholarship” in English, full of interesting details and stylistic analyses usually available only in Chinese publications.

  • Lü Peng 吕澎. 20 shiji Zhongguo yishu shi (20世纪中国艺术史). Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Presents an admirable scope of information and critical views usually not found in Chinese scholarship. Expert and methodical treatment of the postwar period. At times lacking in precision. Second revised edition published in 2013 by Xinqing Chubanshe. English translation of an abridged version: A Pocket History of 20th-Century Chinese Art (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2011). French translation of the unabridged version is Histoire de l’art chinois au XXe siècle (Paris: Somogy éditions d’art, 2013).

  • Sullivan, Michael. Art and Artists of Twentieth–Century China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

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    Comprehensive, in-depth survey of 20th-century Chinese art with essays written in an accessible yet scholarly style. Contains many details on historical events and artists, many of whom the author knew in person. At times this lacks precision and accuracy of detail, however.

  • Sullivan, Michael. Modern Chinese Artists. A Biographical Dictionary. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Dictionary of biographical information on artists who are, for the most part, mentioned already in Sullivan 1996. Arranged by surname and cross-referenced to artists’ other names. Some information updated or corrected compared to Sullivan 1996.

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