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Master painter 'revived' on canvas
( 2003-11-05 08:53) (China Daily)

He has been internationally known as the leader in reforming traditional Chinese figure paintings since the 1930s, even before Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Jiang Zhaohe (1904-86).

But he was almost forgotten in Chinese art circles until recently. The grace of Fang Rending (also known as Fang Kending, 1901-75), has finally recovered its place in modern art history with a review exhibition of his works at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

The exhibition runs until next Monday, and is co-hosted by the museum, the China Artists' Association, the Chinese Painting Research Institute, Guangdong Artists' Association and Guangdong Academy of Art.

The exhibition features 50 ink paintings, watercolours and calligraphy works by the artist, which have been kept by his family.

His works, created in the 1930s and 1940s, dazzle the visitors with the amazing beauty of women portrayed in Chinese figure paintings, influenced by Japanese Ukiyo paintings and Western art.

"I cannot help standing before his painting 'Walking in the Snow' and speculating on the mysteries of the delicate skin, the white shawl, the black velvet dress, the black silk stockings and the red leather shoes," said Pan Jiajun, an established artist and vice-chairman of the Guangdong Artists' Association.

"Fang was founder of the new Chinese figure paintings, and the most famous artist of the second generation of Lingnan school artists before 1949," said Lang Shaojun, a renowned researcher with the Chinese Academy of Art.

The Lingnan school, based in South China's Guangdong Province, was among the three major schools in the tide of reforming Chinese paintings at the beginning of the 20th century, the other two being the Beijing-Tianjin school and the Shanghai school.

A 1925 graduate of a prestigious law school founded by Dr Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) in Guangdong, Fang refused a safe and prestigious career in the Supreme Court then and turned to art studies in the Chunshui Academy directed by the artist Gao Jianfu (1879-1951).

Gao, who participated in the legendary assassinations of high-ranking army officers in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), co-founded the Lingnan school to add vitality and strength to traditional Chinese paintings that had stressed a lofty attitude toward worldly affairs since the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and evolved into a rigid formula in the late Qing Dynasty.

In Gao's academy Fang learned flower-and-bird paintings and won a national and later a Belgian art award with such a painting in 1928.

Besides being an artist he was the "spokesman" for Chinese painting reformists, as he had an influential year-long debate on newspapers in 1926 with Huang Banruo, a young artist speaking on behalf of conservative Chinese painters.

While Gao expected Fang to inherit his style, the latter decided not to confine himself to a certain school. From 1929 to 1935 Fang studied art in an art school which is today's Tokyo University of Arts in Tokyo.

He was the only one of the second generation of Lingnan school artists who had received professional training overseas.

Affected by the flourishing Japanese art circle, Fang took note of the colours, fine brushwork, meticulous details and the dyeing skills.

In Japan he started to focus on figure painting, which he believed to better reflect the "spirits of the time."

He was violently against traditional figure paintings, which were often lined with ink to achieve a similarity to the spirit rather than the image of the portrayed.

Before the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) most of his figure paintings were portrays of young women.

In "Beside the Pond," a half-asleep nude holding a lotus bud ready to burst reclined in grasses beside a pond. The woman and lotus both floated in an erotic air.

With stimulative colours and Japanese decorative styles, a fresh, daring emotion overwhelmed each of Fang's paintings in the 1930s, said veteran art scholar Shu Shijun.

Influenced by the democratic revolutions, he also depicted the sufferings of common Chinese residents.

In "Post-war Sorrows," a woman carrying a baby on the back lingers by her torn-down house. Snow flakes filling the picture area convey a suffocating silence.

Since the 1930s Fang had made his name as his works were exhibited around the world and won important international art prizes in Europe and the United States.

When the war broke out Fang held an anti-Japanese art exhibition in Hong Kong in 1938. It was then that Fang met Huang for the first time, whom he debated with in 1926. The two hugged in the war-torn island and became lifelong friends.

After the exhibition Fang left for the United States, where he studied art and held solo exhibitions in support of the resistance war against Japanese invasion.

In the United States where he stayed until 1941 when he returned to China, he broke away from the Japanese decorative style and got freer, more passionate in his creations influenced by masters like Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

In 1949 after the foundation of new China, he portrayed the improved life of ordinary people with a heart-felt passion.

Yet, bewildered by the political campaigns of the time, the reforming pioneer returned to the ink tradition in artistic creation, and found pleasure from ancient poems and traditional calligraphy.

In 1975 he died unnoticed in Guangzhou of a common illness due to a lack of medicine.

The recovery of Fang's status is amid a tide of recollection of forgotten artists in the early part of the 20th century as people take a more objective look at modern art history, said Pan Jiajun. Among them are Pan Yuliang (1899-1977) and 89-year-old Sha Qi.

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