Huang Binhong (1865-1955) and His Redefinition of the Chinese Painting Tradition in the Twentieth Century

Kotewall, Pikyee 蘇碧懿
Supervisor: Prof. Q.L. Wan

Born in an era in which the sovereignty of Chinese traditional painting was challenged by attempts of westernization, Huang Binhong regenerated traditional painting, particularly scholar-painting, by redefining the contents and characteristics of its tradition. Driven by nationalism, he adopted an uncommonly liberal and original approach towards the challenge of change and the issue of modernity in twentieth century Chinese painting.

In order to place the life and art of Huang Binhong in their proper historical perspectives, the thesis begins with a general analysis of the ideological trends and artistic environment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in China. It continues with an examination of Huang’s life history, which gives informed insights into his personality, the intellectual traditions he inherited and the extent he was conditioned and affected by the national, social, ideological and artistic conditions during the period he lived in.

An attempt follows to analyse his intentions behind his artistic endeavours, to ascertain his philosophies and standpoints towards the art of painting and to clarify his views on paintings, past and present, with a detailed examination of his writings on the subject. The next stage is to draw out Huang Binhong’s many principles on the practice of painting and examine his interpretations of the various painting qualities venerated in tradition. The thesis continues with a detailed discussion of the painting development of Huang Binhong and a critical appreciation of his paintings.

The investigation concludes with an assessment of Huang Binhong’s achievement. Modernity in Chinese painting had inadvertently led Huang to perpetuate internally in Chinese painting methods and to evolve a new style of traditional painting. But Huang also acknowledged the modern world and recognized the histories of western painting. Some of his ideas, especially in regard to the effects of light and the autonomous use of the brush and ink converged with those of western Impressionism and Modernism. Yet it is important not to exaggerate its degree of influence, which in Huang Binhong’s case, could be no more than a source of inspiration and a corroborative agent.

Huang Binhong was unique in his demonstration of the feasibility of the coming together of an unadulterated Chinese painting tradition with certain concepts of western art. His redefinition of the Chinese painting tradition, in the modern context of the twentieth century, dissolved the traditionalistic relationship to tradition by allowing for a broadening of its perimeters. Through the use of the brush and ink, Huang created a new form of modernistic scholar-painting. Hence, he had used modernity to reinforce tradition, instead of, to destroy it. Huang Binhong showed how a traditional painter confronted modernity, and how he became modernistic without surrendering any of the tradition he was so intent on preserving.