Xu Beihong [1895-1953] and Western Influence: A Study of His Large-Scale History Paintings

Yeung, Yuk Ling Cecilia 楊玉玲
Supervisor: Dr. C.D. Muir and Prof. Q.L. Wan

In the first half of the 20th century, many artists (particularly those who had studied art abroad) sought to reform traditional Chinese painting through the application of Western concepts, media, devices and techniques. Xu Beihong [ 1895-1953] is one of the most important and influential reformist painters who aspired to improve traditional Chinese painting with what he had learnt from the West. Although Xu had spent a lengthy period of up to 8 years in Europe, little has been done to relate his painting career and reformist cause to the training and exposure he had in Europe and no scholars have yet undertaken to study and explore, in a comprehensive and thorough manner, the Western influence on him. As the European phase (i.e. May 1919 to April 1927) is most crucial in the formation of Xu’s painting style and artistic outlook, this study aims to fill the gaps by investigating the Western influence on the artist through a close study of his large-scale history paintings.

The thesis comprises an introduction, four chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction is a statement f my research plan and the contents of this work. The First Chapter sets the scene by recounting Xu’s early encounters with Western painting in China and the subsequent training and exposure he had in Europe. The Second Chapter sketches the character of the French academic system and examines how Xu’s academic background manifests itself through his large-scale history paintings. The Third Chapter discusses Xu’s distinct inclination towards the Neo-classical movement through an inquiry into his clear preference for subject matter treated in accordance with the tenets of Neo-classicism. The Fourth Chapter investigates Xu’s insistence on realism, his disapproval of the modern trends and his subsequent shift of emphasis from the historical subjects to paintings of contemporary life. The Conclusion will provide a summation of my findings and assess the historical significance of Xu’ s large-scale history paintings.