The most influential Chinese artist and art educator in twentieth-century China, Xu Beihong is widely known as the father of modern Chinese painting. Born into a poor family in 1895 in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, he learned Chinese classics and traditional Chinese painting from his father, a self-taught artist.
Xu Beihong gained a government scholarship to study in France and attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts. Between 1919 and 1927, he studied sketching and oil painting in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. Returning to China in 1927, he successfully integrated Western painting methods and techniques with traditional Chinese painting in order to develop Chinese painting. He demonstrated two fundamental ways to improve Chinese painting: “focusing on human activities” and rejuvenating the tradition of “learning from nature.” His creative work and extensive teaching offered a new direction for Chinese artists and art educators. He was the first to systematically incorporate high-standard Western sketching from life and oil painting into the curricula at China’s major art institutions.
From 1927 until his death in 1953, Xu Beihong trained several generations of students. Many became accomplished artists and leading art educators who have continued to influence Chinese art in the twenty-first century. Since 1954, more than 1200 of his original drawings, sketches, oils, and Chinese ink brush paintings have been kept and displayed by the Xu Beihong Memorial Museum in Beijing.