Qi Baishi

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Portrait of Qi Baishi on a Soviet stamp

Qi Baishi (Simplified Chinese: 齐白石; Traditional Chinese: 齊白石; pinyin: Qí Báishí, also Ch'i Pai-shih or Ch'i Huang) (January 1, 1864 - September 16, 1957) was a Chinese painter. His pseudonyms include Qí Huáng (齊璜) and Qí Wèiqīng (齐渭清). Together with Chang Ta-ch'ien, he was one of the last of the great traditional Chinese painters. Born into a peasant family, he was largely self-taught and became adept at the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and the carving of seals. Some of Qi's major influences included the early Qing Dynasty painter Bada Shanren (or Zhu Da) and the Ming Dynasty artist Xu Wei. His own style developed over a long course of study, experience and innovation; his painting did not mature until late in his life.

He is perhaps the most noted contemporary Chinese painter for the whimsical, often playful style of his watercolor works. The subjects of his paintings include animals, scenery, figures, toys, vegetables; many of his later works depict mice, shrimp, or birds. Qi Baishi did not allow the political turmoil surrounding the fall of the Qing dynasty, the establishment of the Republic of China, two World Wars and the rise of the Chinese Communist Party, affect his work or undermine his own values and ideals. Even in revolutionary China, he represented a continuing commitment to traditional cultural values. He was made honorary Chairman of the National Artists’ Association, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese Federation of Writers and Artists, and honorary professor of the Central Academy of Art. In 1953, he was given the title "People's Artist" by the Central Cultural Ministry, and became Chairman of both the Chinese Painting Research Society of Beijing and the Chinese Artists' Association. Baishi once said, "The excellence of a painting lies in its being alike, yet unlike. Too much likeness flatters the vulgar taste; too much unlikeness deceives the world."

Contents

Life

Early Life

Qi Baishi was born November 22, 1863 to a peasant family from Xiangtan, Hunan. He lived with his parents, grandparents, and eight younger sisters and brothers. Baishi attended school for less than a year because of poor health. Children in most poor Chinese families worked with their parents on their farms, but Baishi was too weak to do much of the labor, and instead became a carpenter at the age of 14. While growing up, he came upon a Chinese manual of painting, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, which sparked his interest in art. [1]. He taught himself how to paint. When he was 16, he studied with Zhou Zhimei, a woodcarver. In 1881, at the age of 19, Qi Baishi married Chen Chunjun (1863-1940).

During Qi Baishi’s early twenties, he created a saying to keep himself motivated. It read, “In speech, use language that people can understand. In painting, depict things that people have seen” [2]. However, he did not start following this motto until much later in his life. He first studied the Jieziyuan huazhuan and used performers, mainly opera actors, as models to practice his work. Baishi then turned to anyone he knew to pose for him. [3].

A few years later there was a demand for artists to paint family portraits, and Baishi decided to become a professional painter. In 1888, Qi Baishi began to study painting with Xiao Xianghai, the finest portrait artist in Xiangtan. He also studied literature under Chen Shaofan, and calligraphy under Hu Qinyuan, who taught him the fundamentals of the gongbi mode, which features fine brushwork and meticulous detail. [4] He was taught that every aspect of painting mattered, from the subject matter to the way the paint was applied to the paper. Under his next mentor, Tan Pu, he began painting landscapes and realized that he could pursue art as his full time career. [5] In 1899, Qi Baishi became a student of Wang Xiangyi, one of the most influential scholars of the time.

Travels

Between 1892 and 1901, Baishi joined the Dragon Hill Poetry Society and the Longshan Poetry Society. From 1902 to 1909, he made five journeys to visit scenic spots in China. At the invitation of Xia Wuyi, he visited Xi'an and toured Beilin, where there were over 1,400 stone tablets engraved with writings by China's finest masters of calligraphy. Xia Wuyi took him to Beijing, where he was introduced to several important scholars, such as Zeng Xi and Li Ruiquan. Li Ruiquan tutored him in the script styles of Northern Wei dynasty steles. In 1905, Qi Baishi borrowed an album of seal impressions by Zhao Zhiqian, who had been a major pioneer of modern jinshi art.

He also made a trip to Guilin in 1905, and then to Qinzhou with Guo Baosheng and others in 1907, traveling as far as Vietnam. Later, he traveled to Guangzhou, Hongkong, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Nanjing.

After 1917, Qi Baishi settled in Beijing, where he met Chen Shizeng. Their friendship is considered one of major turning points of his career. 1919, Qi Baishi took an eighteen-year-old concubine, Hu Baosheng, from Sichuan. In 1922, Chen Shizeng took Qi Baishi's paintings to an exhibition in Tokyo, featuring paintings by both Chinese and Japanese artists. All of his paintings were sold and two of them were selected for public display in Paris.

In 1927, Lin Fengmian, the director of the Beijing Art Academy, invited him to teach traditional painting there. When the school changed its name to the Beijing Art College in 1928, Qi Baishi became a professor. The same year, he published Jieshanyinguan Shicao, a collection of his poetry.

After the Sino-Japanese War

In 1937, when the Sino-Japanese war broke oout and Japan took control of Beijing and Tianjin, he locked his door in protest and posted a sign on it, “Old Man Baishi has had a recurrence of heart sickness and has stopped receiving guests." He quit his teaching job at the Beijing Art College. In 1940, his wife, Chen Chunjun, passed away, and in 1941, he officially married Hu Baozhu.

After Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, Baishi again began to sell his paintings and seals. In 1946, he asked Hu Shi to write his biography. He held one-man exhibitions of his paintings in both Shanghai at the invitation of the Shanghai Art Society, and in Nanjing, at the invitation of the All China Art Society. He met Chiang Kai-shek and was honored in a grand ceremony. Qi Baishi accepted Zhang Daofan, Director of the All China Art Society, as his student.

During World War II, many traditional art works had been destroyed, and many aspects of Chinese culture were no longer considered things of value, but Baishi was still respected. He was “elected to the National People’s Congress and made honorary Chairman of the National Artist’s’ Association, he represented a continuing commitment to traditional cultural values in revolutionary China” [6]. He was also elected a member of the National Committee of the Chinese Federation of Writers and Artists. Xu Beihong, Director of the Central Academy of Art, appointed Qi Baishi to be honorary professor.

In 1953, he was given the title "People's Artist" by the Central Cultural Ministry, and became chairman of both the Chinese Painting Research Society of Beijing and the Chinese Artists' Association. In 1954 he was elected the Hunan province representative to the National People's Congress. In 1955 the East Germany Academy of Art appointed him an honorary fellow. In 1956, the World Peace Council granted their International Peace Award to Qi Baishi. In 1957 Qi Baishi was named Honorary President of the Beijing Studio of Traditional Chinese Painting, and a film entitled "The Artist Qi Baishi" was made. Qi Baishi passed away on September 16, 1957.[7]

Works

Qi Baishi did not have any formal education or training in the field of art; however, he managed to master many different techniques including calligraphy and the carving of seals. After establishing himself in Hunan as a painter and artist, he did not begin traveling and looking for more inspiration until his forties. Baishi came upon the Sahanghai School, which was very popular at the time, and met Wu Changshi, who then became another mentor to him and inspired many of Baishi’s works. Another influence on Baishi was Chen Shizeng, whom he met 15 years later when he was living in Beijing. [8]. His own style developed over a long course of study, experience and innovation; his painting did not mature until late in his life.

Baishi is perhaps the most noted contemporary Chinese painter for the whimsical, often playful style of his watercolor works. His work was popular for its variety of natural subjects, taken from plant and animal life; because of his natural style collectors of both “artistic” and “political” art purchased his work. His work reflected a diversity of interests and experiences, depicting on the smaller elements of the natural world rather than grandiose landscapes. The subjects of his paintings included animals, scenery, figures, toys, and vegetables. Many of his later works depicted mice, shrimp, or birds. He continued the styles of such seventeenth- and eighteenth-century individualists as Shih-t'ao and Chu Ta. Some of Qi's major influences were the early Qing Dynasty painter Bada Shanren (or Zhu Da) and the Ming Dynasty artist Xu Wei. He was also good at carving seals and called himself "the fortune of three hundred stone seals."

Qi Baishi's paintings represented Chinese tradition, but with an innovative form and style. He painted animals, insects and flowers, in a way that no one had achieved before. He once said, "The excellence of a painting lies in its being alike, yet unlike. Too much likeness flatters the vulgar taste; too much unlikeness deceives the world."[9]

Baishi is unique because all of his works show none of the Western influences which affected other Chinese artists of his time. Other artists praised Baishi for the “freshness and spontaneity that he brought to the familiar genres of birds and flowers, insects and grasses, hermit-scholars and landscapes” [10]. Baishi was recognized for his very careful and beautiful way of painting such common images.

After the fall of the Qing dynasty, Qi Baishi was known for not letting political issues affect his work, and for keeping his own values and ideals through the harsh times. By Confucian standards, starting off as nothing and creating a name for yourself, as Baishi did, was very honorable [11].

After all of Baishi’s travels he built a house, settled down, and began reading and writing poetry, and painting some of the mountain scenery he saw while he was traveling. The result was a series of 50 landscape paintings known as “Chieh-shan t’u-chuan.” Later, artists that Baishi knew printed poems and postscripts on them [12]. One of Baishi’s earlier series of works, “The Carp” was noticed and admired because of its simple style that contained no excess decorations or writings. His work was also praised for the noticeable influence of his talent for wood-carving and for the personal influences expressed through his work. As Baishi became a mature painter, his lines were sharper and his subject matter changed from an animal life to plant life. As said by Wang Chao-Wen, “he based his work on reality while experimenting ceaselessly in new ways of expression, to integrate truth and beauty, create something yet unimagined by other artists, and achieve his own unique style, one that should not be artificial” [13].

Personal Experiences and Qi Baishi's Journal

Wang Chao-Wen related that once while Baishi was talking to a student in Beijing, he saw the outline of a bird on a brick floor partially covered by muddy water. Wang points out that not everyone would have seen that bird, but that because Baishi was always concerned with finding new images to paint, he had a “special sensitivity.” [14]. Baishi was said to have something special about him because he was constantly thinking about painting and had such a strong drive and motivation to be a great artist.

Some excerpts from Qi Baishi’s journal illustrate his strong drive and passion for his work, and his strong confidence in his specialty. From the article “An Appreciation of Chi Pai-Shi’s Paintings,” (Baishi was previously known as Chi Pai-Shi) his journal entry reads as follows:

“When I cut seals I do not abide by the old rules, and so I am accused of unorthodoxy. But I pity this generation’s stupidity, for they do not seem to realize that the Chin and Han artists were human and so are we, and we may have our unique qualities too… Such classical artists as Ching-teng, Hsueh-ko and Ta-ti-tzu dared to make bold strokes in their paintings, for which I admire them tremendously. My one regret is that I was not born three hundred years ago, for then I could have asked to grind ink or hold the paper for those gentleman, and if they would not have me I should have starved outside their doors rather than move away. How wonderful that would have been! I suppose future generations will admire our present artists just as much as we admire these men of old. What a pity that I will not be there to see it!” [15]

See also

Chinese painting

Notes

  1. Howard L. Boorman, and Richard C. Howard. "Ch'I Pai-Shih." Biographical Dictionary of Republican China I (1967), 302
  2. Jung Ying Tsao. The Paintings of Xugu and Qi Baishi, 1st ed. (Seattle and London: Far East Fine Arts Inc, 1993), 198
  3. Ibid.
  4. Jung Ying Tsao, 199-201
  5. Ibid.
  6. Xiangtan. "Qi Baishi [Ch'I Pai-Shi;Zi Huang; Hao Baishi Laoren, Baihi Shanweng]." Grove Art Online (2007): 1
  7. Qi Baishi and His Paintings, About, Inc., A part of The New York Times Company. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  8. Jung Ying Tsao, 199-201
  9. Qi Baishi and His Paintings, About, Inc., A part of The New York Times Company. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  10. Xiangtan, 2
  11. Xiangtan, 1
  12. Boorman & Howard, 302-304
  13. Chao-Wen Wang. "An Appreciation of Chi Pai-Shih's Paintings." 127
  14. Wang, 129
  15. Ibid., 130-131

References

  • Boorman, Howard L., Richard C. Howard, and Joseph K. H. Cheng. 1967. Biographical dictionary of Republican China. New York: Columbia University Press, 302-304. ISBN 9780231089579
  • Hsu, Kai-yu, and Fangyu Wang. Ch'i Pai-Shih's Paintings. Taipei: Art Book Co, 1979.
  • Lai, T. C., and Baishi Qi. Ch'i Pai Shih. Kowloon: Swindon Book Co, 1973.
  • Lai, T. C., and Baishi Qi. Chʻi Pai Shih. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973.
  • Qi, Baishi. Chʻi Pai-Shih, the Versatile Genius – Yi Yuan Qi Ying. Fort Thomas, Ky: Pine Studios, 1976.
  • Qi, Baishi. Likeness & Unlikeness Selected Paintings of Qi Baishi. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1989. ISBN 0835122166
  • Tsao, Jung Ying, and Carol Ann Bardoff. The Paintings of Xugu and Qi Baishi. San Francisco: Far East Fine Arts, in association with the University of Washington Press, 1993. ISBN 9780295973401
  • Wang Chao-Wen. An Appreciation of Chi Pai-Shih's Paintings. 126-131.
  • Xiangtan. 2007. Qi Baishi [Ch'I Pai-Shi;Zi Huang; Hao Baishi Laoren, Baihi Shanweng]. Grove Art Online: 1-3.

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