Occupation: Painter, wood carver, seal carver
Movement: Traditional Chinese
Qi Baishi's Famous Artworks
“Birds of Paradise,” 1940
“Lychee Fruit,” 1940
“The Branch of Wisteria,” 1944
“Fly on a Platter,” 1947
“Impatiens and Butterfly,” 1947
“Bindweed and Grapes,” 1950
“The Chickens Are Happy Sun,” 1950
Qi Baishi (also known as Qí Huáng and Qí Wèiqīng) was one of the greatest traditional Chinese painters
, known for his lyrical and spirited watercolor pieces that often focused on flowers, animals, birds and insects.
Qi Baishi's Early Life
Baishi was born on January 1, 1864, in Xiangtan, located in the Hunan province of China, to a poor agricultural family. Due to his sickly nature and financial constraints, he had less than a year of a formal education by the time he was eight. In 1878, he took up carpentry in order to help feed his family of eight siblings. The woodworking trade propelled a new interest in art and craft in young Baishi, who began teaching himself how to paint. He chose unassuming objects at first, making studies of flowers, fish and insects. He found an old manual published during the Qing Dynasty, ‘The Mustard Seed Garden’, of which he began to make copies. Local opera performers agreed to pose for him as well, winning Baishi a reputation for both skill and passion.
At the age of 18, Baishi married Chen Chunjun, with whom he had five children. Later, he had a concubine, Hu Baozhu, with whom he had seven children.
Qi Baishi's Education and Training
Although, Qi Baishi did not have any formal training in art but mastered the arts of painting, poetry, calligraphy
largely on his known. At various stages of his career, he was also mentored by senior and fellow artists. In 1888, Baishi began studying painting under the tutelage of portraitist Xiao Xianghai, while also apprenticing under Chen Shaofan and Hu Qinyuan in literature and calligraphy. It was the latter that taught him the intricacies of ‘gongbi’, a Chinese style of painting that requires the artist to ponder over every aspect of the image, from the content to the application of color on parchment. The effect is that of delicate brushwork and meticulous detail.
In the early 1900s, Baishi began traveling through China in search of new vistas and subjects for his work. He met master seal carver Wu Changshuo on his journey, who was also a reputed artist of birds and flowers. Changshuo, who later became a mentor and an influence on Baishi’s work, introduced him to the Shanghai School of Chinese art and encouraged individuality in contemporary form. Later, when Baishi settled in Beijing, he was introduced to noted scholars Li Ruiquan and Zeng Xi, from whom he gleaned what he could of art theory. In Beijing, Baishi also became close to a well-known painter of his time, Chen Shizeng.
Style of Qi Baishi's Paintings
He moved to Beijing before World War II, where he had an established audience that was growing by the year. His paintings were unique in their simplicity and sensitivity, touched by humor and an acceptance of small joys. He believed in painting smaller things of the world rather than large landscapes. This was an important characteristic of the Chinese art of the early 20th century. Both the downfall of the Qing Dynasty and the World Wars occurred in Qi Baishi’s lifetime, but his work remained free of allusions to the political atmosphere of the country or the world. His motifs are all of the natural world: vegetables, plants, sea-creatures, galloping horses.
Despite the naiveté of his subject matters, what is most striking is the boldness of his brushstrokes: spreading in one single motion across the whole canvas, without hesitation or deliberation. He focused on the essence of his subject instead of its structure. His use of fading ink evokes a sense of lightness, appealing to peasant, artist and politician alike.
Acclaim and Qi Baishi's Art
Baishi’s paintings sold out in exhibitions in Tokyo and two were chosen for public display in Paris. In 1928, he became a professor at the Beijing Art College — but quit in 1937 due to the conflict of the Second Sino-Japanese War. During the war, Baishi’s wife died in 1940, and soon after, his concubine passed away in 1944. In protest of the war, Baishi became somewhat of a hermit and did not regularly see visitors. Art lovers can buy Qi Baishi's artworks online.
When the war ended, he continued to sell his paintings and, in 1946, held solo exhibitions in Shanghai and Nanjing. Even during the post-war period where most art had been destroyed and diminished, Baishi flourished in popularity.
He was elected a member of the National Committee of the Chinese Federation of Writers and Artists and of the National Committee of the Chinese Artists’ Association in 1949. Baishi was granted other honors, including the People’s Artist by Central Cultural Ministry in 1953, honorary fellow of the East German Academy of Art (1955), the International Peace Award (1956) and Honorary President of the Beijing Studio of Traditional Chinese Painting (1957).
Baishi’s popularity continues to this day as he is one of the most valued Chinese painters ever. Two of his works figure in the 10 most expensive Chinese paintings ever sold. His 1946 ink work, ‘Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree’ is the most expensive Chinese painting ever auctioned, fetching $65.4 million. It achieved that price in China Guardian auction house’s May 2011 sale. However, there were reports that the buyer did not pay the price after doubts were raised about the work’s authenticity. As one of the most popular Chinese artists, Qi Baishi is also forged a lot.
Baishi passed away in September, 1957 in Beijing.
Qi Baishi's Major Exhibitions
1998 - The Museum of Macau
2001 - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
2003 - Qingdao Municipal Museum, Quingdao
2005 - Beijing Capital Museum, Beijing
2005 - Ottawa Congress Centre, Ottawa
2006 - Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto
2006 - Guandong Museum of Art, Guangzhou
2008 - Beijing Art Academy, Beijing
2008 - National Gallery, Prague
2009 - Taichung County Seaport Art Center, Taichung
2009 - Sotheby's, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
2009 - Shenzhen Museum, China
Qi Baishi's Museums/Collections
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Canadian Museum of Civilization, Quebec
“The Paintings of Xugo and Qi Baishi” by Jung Ying Tsao and Carol Ann Bardoff
“Qi Baishi: Who Finds Isn’t Seeking Hard Enough” by Diny Pijpers
“Qi Baishi: The Soul of Chinese Painting” by Zhiyuan Cong
“The Art of Qi Baishi” by Britta Erickson and Craig Yee