Fu Baoshi, one of the most renowned modern artists in China and a favorite of Chairman Mao, will be featured in a new Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit. He painted during on of China’s most tumultuous periods.
Fu was eight years old in 1912 when China’s last imperial dynasty was overthrown and the Chinese Republic was established. He witnessed the divisive warlord era and Communist rebellion of the 1920s. That was followed by the Japanese invasion and occupation of eastern China from 1937 to 1945.
The Communists swept to power in 1949, and over the last 15 years of his life, his art reflected China’s political transformation under Mao.
See some Fu Baoshi works; click to enlarge.
Fu trained in both China and Japan at a time when arts education stressed modernization through the study of Western methods. Fu developed a new style incorporating foreign styles and techniques, and began creating boldly individualistic and strongly nationalistic work.
Fu Baoshi: Physically Present in Works
Noting that Chinese painting had evolved toward too great a dependency on monochromatic, calligraphic brushwork, Fu sought to revive earlier traditions. They involved more realistic description that made greater use of color and ink wash. He also stressed the need for an artist to be emotionally and physically present in his art.
To achieve this end, Fu often painted while inebriated. He also sought spontaneity through a spattered-ink method of painting—a kind of “action art” that parallels the working methods of some of the Abstract Expressionists. During the war years from 1942 to 1945, Fu revived the millennium-long monumental landscape tradition.
He wanted to evoke the grandeur of China’s towering mountains and surging rivers. “Whispering Rain at Dusk” (1945) exemplifies Fu’s unrivaled ability to achieve rich and often brooding atmospheric effects through layered applications of ink wash suffused with pale color.
Fu Baoshi: Painting for the Party
“The Far Snows of Minshan Make Us Happy” (1953) portrays soldiers enduring the hardships of the legendary Long March in the Min Mountains of Sichuan in 1935. It is an example of the kind of image Fu was required to paint celebrating the history of the Party after the Communist Revolution of 1949.
During the final decade of his life, his works were infused with politics. Fu drew inspiration from the poetry of Mao Zedong and China’s natural scenery. His success in interpreting both led to the most important commission of his career.
He painted a vast landscape panorama for the Great Hall of the People that was the centerpiece for the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in 1959. “Such is the Beauty of our Rivers and Mountains” (1959?), a preliminary draft for the monumental painting, is a highlight of the exhibition.
The exhibition will be augmented by works from a private New York collection. It is the most comprehensive treatment of the artist’s oeuvre ever presented in the West. Many of the works from the Nanjing Museum in Nanjing, China, have never before been seen in the West.
The remainder of the exhibition will be devoted to works of art created after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. This part will offer an insight into how Fu sustained his creative vision while adapting his art to the socialist agenda of Mao’s New China.
“Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904-1965)” is currently on view at The Cleveland Museum of Art. In New York, the exhibition is curated by Maxwell K. Hearn, Douglas Dillon Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Asian Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904-1965)
January 21 to April 15, 2012
Location: Galleries for Chinese Painting and Calligraphy