Painter Fu Baoshi

Credited with revolutionizing Chinese ink painting, Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) is considered one of the most important Chinese artists of the last century. From an apprentice in a painting shop to an art-history student in Japan, and later an diligent artist who traveled all over China to capture the country's landscape, forming his own style based on traditional artistry, Fu Baoshi continued his quest for artistic adventure throughout his life.

Fu Baoshi was born in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province. He went to Japan to study the History of Oriental Art in the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1933. He settled in Nanjing after he returned to China and was recruited by Xu Beihong to teach art history and painting at the National Central University. He translated many books from Japanese and carried out his own research. In painting itself, he brought Japanese visual elements to the Chinese ink painting tradition.

Fu had strong feelings towards the land of China. During his travel to many places, he recorded the splendors of the rivers and mountains, drawing inspiration from nature and becoming the representative landscape painter of his time. His name will be remembered forever for his depictions of Chinese landscapes.

Fu wrote numerous fine arts theses, the earliest of which, "On the Evolution of Chinese Paintings", was written at the age of 25. He also carried out in-depth research into the history of landscape painting at the end of the 4th century BC, including the works of Gu Kaizhi of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and Jing Hao of the Five Dynasties Period (907-960), as well as Wu Douzi, Li Sixu, Li Zhaodao and Zhang Yanyuan of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He worked very hard to imitate paintings by Gao Kegong and Ni Zan of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) Chen Hongshou of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and Cheng Sui, Kun Can, Zha Shibiao, Gong Xian, Mei Qing, Wui Li, Yun Shouping and Shi Tao of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), finally becoming one of the master painters of his ageIn this capacity he succeeded Huang Binhong, who had created a new style of landscape painting called "Baoshi wrinkle" basing on the cattle-hair wrinkle of Wang Meng of the Yuan Dynasty.

As well as painting landscapes, Fu Baoshi was also an accomplished painter of figures. His paintings of ancient Chinese figures from the 3rd and 4th centuries BC are particularly acclaimed.

As a leader of the so-called New Chinese Painting Movement, which reformed traditional Chinese painting after 1949, Fu stood out from most of his contemporaries with his great passion for art, and his innovative brushwork and unique picture composition.

Fu's reforms were followed by a group of artists in Nanjing where he then lived. He was recognized as the founder of the Nanjing-based New Jinling School of Fine Arts. The school included such important artists as Chen Zhifo (1896-1962), Qian Songyan (1898-1985), Song Wenzhi (1919-1999), Wei Zixi (1915-2003) and Ya Ming (1924-2002). 

Their works, which added a contemporary touch to traditional art, have been the most welcomed from the contemporary period in the Chinese art market today. When he took up the State commission to paint the "Jiangshan Ruci Duojiao" (Beautiful Landscape of the Motherland), which has been hung at the entrance of the Great Hall of the People since 1959, he had to make a special application to the then Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) for "two boxes of liquor." Finally, the master was found lying silently before the uncompleted work, his brush dropped nearby and his liquor spilled from the cup.


In the early 17th century, as the Ming Dynasty was changing into the Qing Dynasty, Shi Tao, a renowned master of Chinese painting, was quoted as saying: "How did our ancestors paint before the rules of painting were established? Even after rules were established, would they forbid the creation of new rules by their successors? If we just learn their style rather than their idea of painting, we will never create new innovations. So, wouldn't that be a waste of time?"

Such a point of view illustrates the philosophy of Fu Baoshi, who created a new style of painting while at the same time, learned from the essence of his ancestors' work. Fu Baoshi went on to become highly respected as one of the greatest 20th century Chinese artists.

Fu Baoshi was a great admirer of Shi Tao and, at the age of 18, changed his name to "Bao Shi". He even wrote a chronicle of Shi Tao, recording his life experiences and social activities as well as his art creations. Fu Baoshi admitted that he was obsessed with the study of Shi Tao's painting. 

Shi Tao once wrote a letter to another famous painter of his time, named Ba Da Shan Ren, asking him to paint his studio "Thatched Cottage of Dadi". The loss of this original painting prompted Fu Baoshi to paint "Thatched Cottage of Dadi" again, three hundred years later. Another great Chinese painter, Xu Beihong, praised the painting with his inscription: "The painting of 'Thatched Cottage of Dadi' by Ba Da Shan Ren may no longer exist, but we could not know it any better than by this painting by Fu Baoshi." A famous painter and art educationist of the time, Xu Beihong once commented that the paintings by Fu Baoshi were as good as those by Ba Da Shan Ren.

As early as the beginning of the 5th century, Zong Bing of the Southern Dynasty (420-589) was quoted in one of his articles about landscape painting, as saying: "Painting is the internal reflection of what the painter sees. A good painting will enable the viewer to be personally in the scene and move them accordingly. If this is true, shouldn't we agree that the painting is as beautiful as the real landscape?" Although we may often compare Fu Baoshi's wonderful paintings with the real landscapes, to simply appreciate the art works in their own right is indeed a  more joyful experience.