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Between Western Techniques and Eastern Traditional Paintings - The Liu Haisu Art Museum

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As a founder of the China New Art Movement, Liu Haisu was one of the most widely-traveled Chinese artists of his day. Some of these latter pieces are considered national treasures in the museum. Especially, his landscapes paintings he concentrated on landscape vistas, such as views of the famous Huangshan in Auhui province, which he had visited. To a lesser extent he portrayed animals symbolic of the new nationalist spirit of China such as eagles and lions.

Originally built as a museum or memorial hall, the Liu Haisu Art Museum contains works by Liu as well as painting and calligraphy pieces from other Chinese art masters. The museum’s venue includes 12,000 square-meters of floor space spread over six exhibition halls. Liu and his family donated about 903 artworks, and 400 of these are from his personal collection of ancient paintings and calligraphy pieces. Flanked by lush trees, the stately and elegant architecture is dubbed “The most attractive museum in Puxi”.


As a founder of the China New Art Movement, Liu Haisu was one of the most widely-traveled Chinese artists of his day. Some of these latter pieces are considered national treasures in the museum. Especially, his landscapes paintings he concentrated on landscape vistas, such as views of the famous Huangshan in Auhui province, which he had visited. To a lesser extent he portrayed animals symbolic of the new nationalist spirit of China such as eagles and lions.


“If Liu Haisu was still alive, he preferred to be called an art educator rather than a painter. ” The the museum’s director, Zhu Gang said.


Humanity seeks truth, justice and beauty. Through history's vicissitudes, these things remain constant.


The brilliant artist, Liu Haisu (1896–1994) who was a painter, art educator, artistic rebel, exhibition organizer, and key figure in introducing Western art to China fine art in the 20th century. As an art educator, he adopted the teaching methods of most Western art academies. The training for sketch skills as the foundation of painting Liu Haisu advocated is still being used in the Chinese contemporary art schools today.


In 1910 Liu Haisu and his friends established the nation's first modern art institute, the Shanghai Fine Arts Academy, one of the first organizations of its kind in modern China. The new school's curriculum emphasized drawing, sculpture and oil painting, and encouraged students to innovate and adopt an engage approach to both their art and life. Liu maintained that painters should combine a knowledge of formal art theory with their natural talent and personal judgment, a departure from the Chinese tradition of copying the compositions and techniques of old masters.


After that, we can see his own works were remarkable for their blending of traditional Chinese painting techniques with European fine art movements, including Impressionism and its associated schools. His works in traditional Chinese style were bold and untrammeled and often made use of brilliant colors. He promoted this mixed style as a model for revolutionizing art education in China.


However, Liu’s reputation as a progressive and controversial figure was established early on, in particular through his use of nude models in coeducational settings, making Shanghai Art School the first to admit both male and female students. Liu also pioneered painting in outdoor environments, breaking with the tradition of working indoors. In 1918, he was invited by Chinese scholar Cai Yuanpei to speak at Beijing University, and held his first solo show in the same year.


As an exhibition organizer, he helped introduce modern Chinese art to Europe and Asia. Liu Haisu was a major influence in bringing impressionism and post-impressionism into China. As early as June 1919, he introduced impressionism in his book A Brief History of Western Landscape Painting. He also started the first art magazine in China titled Art, leading theoretic research on art.


Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Liu organized a number of national and international exhibitions, and traveled to Japan and Europe, where he studied Western techniques, and was deeply influenced by the works of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. His books Biography of Jean-François Millet, Biography of Paul Cézanne, and A Brief History of Western Landscape Painting were instrumental in introducing Western art into China.


Few countries have experienced more vicissitudes, cycles of purge and renewal, than has 20th-Century China. In 1926, some self-proclaimed defenders of China's heritage ransacked Liu's school and pressured the Nationalist government into briefly jailing the artist as a "traitor to tradition." Following the 1949 Communist rise to power, Chairman Mao Tse-tung's dictate that "art must serve political ends" was enshrined. Also during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Liu was forced to remain away from home for long stretches of time due to political persecution.


The stage was set for a battle over political correctness in art, a conflict that is still very much alive in China today and one to which Liu lends moral weight as an advocate of free expression.


He has painted in three different centuries.


Liu Haisu said, “After all the adversity I've overcome, of course this is gratifying.”


Liu died in Shanghai at the age of 1994. In 1995, the Liu Haisu Art Museum was established, and contains an extensive collection of the artist’s work, as well as a number of paintings from his private collection. Today, his paintings have been widely exhibited, and are found in many public and private collections in East Asia and the West..


Tips

Museum open:Tuesday to Sunday: 9:00-17:00 (Admission stops after 16:00)

Monday: Closed (Exception: open on public holidays)


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