Yanfei Zhu, Postdoctoral Scholar and Lecturer
The Department of Art History, University of Chicago
“Traitor to Art:” Liu Haisu (1896-1994) and His Oil/Ink Paintings between Two Worlds
Liu Haisu (1896-1994), details of Waves (left), 1932, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 92 cm, and Angry Waves (right), 1927, hanging scroll, ink on paper, 150.8 x 62.3 cm. Both at the Kyoto National Museum.
As often criticized as praised by his contemporaries and current scholars, Liu Haisu (1896-1994) was a seminal figure in the definition of modern art and art education in Republican China (1912-1949). He directed the Shanghai Art Academy, one of the first modern art schools in China; during his journeys to Europe, he acted as an informal envoy of art and culture, endeavoring to propagate the knowledge of Chinese art and reinstate China as the cradle of Far Eastern culture; and throughout his life, he doggedly worked to integrate the ostensibly irreconcilable conventions of Chinese and European painting. After examining his writings and paintings of the period, and in particular his claims for the theoretical consonance of painting by the nineteenth century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and the seventeenth century Chinese painter Shitao (1642-1707), this paper proposes that Liu Haisu, despite his many empty boasts, succeeded in the project of establishing a new Chinese art in the twentieth century, one in which ink painting and oil painting both had a significant place.
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