An exhibition at the Beijing Fine Art Academy showcases the friendship between Xu Beihong and Qi Baishi, two leading artists in 20th-century China. Lin Qi reports.
The friendship between Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Qi Baishi (1864-1957), two eminent artists of 20th-century China, demonstrates how despite different perspectives about art, they trusted and supported each other.
Their 25-year relationship which continued until Xu's death expanded from art to day-to-day life. An exhibition at the Beijing Fine Art Academy showcases this unique relationship.
The exhibition titled Qi Baishi, in the Eyes of Xu Beihong, brings together dozens of paintings, calligraphic pieces and seal impressions by Qi, as well as letters exchanged by the duo.
The items on display come from the collections of the Fine Art Academy and the Beijing Xu Beihong Memorial Hall.
One of the earliest works on show is Xun Jiu Tu (Recollections of the Past), produced in about 1933, in which Qi painted his own back and left an inscription of how his association with Xu began, and how much he missed the time they spent together.
In the inscription, Qi mentioned Xu, who was then appointed as the head of the Beiping Fine Art College (renamed the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the 1950s), paid several visits to his home in 1928, and persuaded him to accept a professorship at the college.
Qi at first turned down the offer because of his age and also because of the fear of opposition from conservatives at the school.
Qi, who referred to himself as "an insignificant painter", used to survive doing carpentry in his native rural Hunan province, and had for long been marginalized by Beijing's art circles.
But, Qi was moved by Xu's sincerity, and took up his offer. And they became great friends.
Xu Qingping, 72, the son of Xu Beihong and director of the Xu Beihong Memorial Hall, says it surprised many at the time that a close relationship could be formed between two people who had an age gap of 31 years, and who differed a lot when it came to education and social status.
Xu Qingping says: "Qi was not trained at a formal art college－a key reason why he was discriminated against by the conservatives－while my father had studied at the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and had lived in Europe for eight years in the 1920s. Besides, he had also taught at several art colleges after returning to China."
However, Xu Qingping says it was not surprising that the two became friends, because both were talented and appreciated each other. And more importantly, they shared a passion to free Chinese ink painting from rigid, formalist doctrines, and make it more accessible to ordinary people, although they adopted different approaches.