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[Cheat Sheet]: Chinese Painters

China has offered a lot more to the world of art than just Ai Weiwei. Here are the ones you should know.
Last updated: 2015-11-09
Cheat Sheet is your first step to Chinese cultural literacy, supplying you with just enough info to make you sound like you know what you're talking about.
Cheat Sheet is your first step to Chinese cultural literacy. In this miniseries we give you all the basics on all of China's contemporary culture makers, from directors, to writers, to visual artists.

Qi Baishi (齐白石)

From: Hunan

Qi Baishi

One of the great masters of modern Chinese art, Qi Baishi had humble beginnings as a carpenter started his artistic path as a carpenter, selling his paintings on the side until his mid-twenties. He is famous for vivid watercolor paintings of naturalist subjects, like flowers, birds, insects, fish, and landscapes as well as calligraphy and seals. Picasso himself even cited him as an influence, saying that he was the "best painter in the Orient" and that he "paints fish with colorless ink, but still can make people see the stream and fish swimming."

Zhang Daqian (张大千)

From: Sichuan

"Recalling the Beautiful Scenery of Huangshan in China" by Zhang Daqian

A legendary Chinese ink painter, master forger, and calligrapher of the twentieth century, he and Qi Baishi has been dubbed 'South Zhang, North Qi' by Chinese. Chang's name is often associated with Picasso as well and is regarded as the "Eastern Picasso" in China. In 2012, both Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi paintings surpassed Picasso as the top earners in the art auction market.

Xu Beihong (徐悲鸿)

From: Jiangsu

Xu Beihong was a strident voice for reform in the world of Chinese art, arguing that Chinese artists should learn from and incorporate techniques from the West. He practiced what he preached, too, studying Western-style painting and learning French. He was best known for his dynamic ink paintings of horses as well as monumental works dealing in epic Chinese themes.

Wu Guanzhong (吴冠中)

From: Beijing

"Spring Snow" by Wu Guanzhong

Widely recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern Chinese painting, Wu Guanzhong's opus spans a diverse range of styles. His early landscapes drew inspiration form early 20th Century European impressionists. His later works started resembling the works of ab ex painters, like Jackson Pollock only with much more brush control. And yet not of it ever seemed derivative. It was wholly his. Started from 70s, he mainly did Chinese painting, had painted various aspects of China like the Three Gorges, Yangtze River, Great Wall etc.

Huang Zhou (黄胄)

From: Hebei

"Donkeys" by Huang Zhou

Huang Zhou's unique traditional ink paintings of landscapes and provincial life are only one small part of his contribution to modern Chinese art. He also founded China's first large-scale private art gallery, the Yan Huang Art Museum in Beijing. In addition to that, he helped to establish the Chinese Academy of Painting and China Art Museum, both in Beijing as well.

Chen Yifei (陈逸飞)

From: Ningbo

"The Banquet" by Chen Yifei

Chen was a famous visual artist, painter, director, and one of the best known Chinese artists in the West. His oil painting "The Banquet" once held the record for the most expensive Chinese oil painting sold at an auction (81.65 million rmb). The honor now is held by Zhao Wuji's "Abstract" for 89.698 million. Chen's involvement in the film industry and eventual transition from artist to businessman has made him the target of plenty of criticism from the purist elements of the art world. Neverthless, he's a got a building named after him at Fudan University's Institute of Visual Arts in Shanghai.

Chen Danqing (陈丹青)


"Pilgrimage" by Chen Danqing

In 1980, Chen Danqing's "Tibet Series" paintings were immediately recognized as landmark classics and earned him a vaunted position among Chinese Socialist Realist painters. His paintings are marked by an elegant and outspoken style that is also reflected in his written works.

Zhou Chunya (周春芽)

From: Chongqing

"Green Dog" Series by Zhou Chunya

One China's most iconic contemporary expressionist painters, Zhou Chunya cut his teeth on propaganda posters during the Cultural Revolution. Eventually he finished his master's degree at the University of Kassel in Germany, where developed a style that combines traditional Chinese brush painting with German Neo-Expressionism. His most famous works are his "Green Dog", "Stone", and and "Peach Blossoms" series. He is also a darling among Asian art collectors and was ranked as the best-selling living Chinese artist two years in a row—2012 and 2013.

Zhang Xiaogang (张晓刚)

From: Yunnan

"Bloodline" Series by Zhang Xiaogang

Symbolist and surrealist painter Zhang Xiaogang is another top selling artist on the auction circuit. He's the guy responsible for those stylized portraits of families from the Cultural Revolution. They're a favorite of counterfeiters, you've no doubt seen them in shop windows around town. The real "Bloodline" series, however, commands a pretty penny, rising in price from under $ 100,000 USD to million in just a few years.

Yue Minjun (岳敏君)

From: Heilongjiang

"The Massacre at Chios"by Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun is another one you'll readily recognize just from taking a walk around Tianzifang. He's best known for oil portraits of himself sporting a creepy, exaggerated ear-to-ear grin or engaging in maniacal laughter. The look has become his personal brand and has made him a leading figure in China's Cynical Realism movement.

Zeng Fanzhi (曾梵志)

From: Wuhan

"Mask" Series by Zeng Fangzhi

Zeng came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and his paintings are deeply influenced by expressionism. His best known work is his "Mask" series, in which he painted portrait young Chinese wearing traditional Red Guard outfits and identical masks with blank stares — a statement on psychological conditions of modern men and women.