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A Great Painter - Xu Linlu

Xu Linlu is a renowned painter, calligrapher, and connoisseur of paintings in China. He is the last student of the great painter Qi Baishi. Xu has devoted time and energy to art for over 70 years and created countless paintings. Since the 1960s, he's been collecting lost art works for the country and authenticating millions of ancient and modern paintings.


Xu began to learn painting and calligraphy when he was still a child. In 1945, through Li Kuchan, he became a student of Qi Baishi. In Xu's 60 years of painting and calligraphy, he did in-depth research on the works of renowned painters in each dynasty, concentrating on the skills of Shi Tao, Zhu Da, the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, Zhao Zhiqian and Wu Changshuo. He has also integrated folk art and opera art into his works. Xu thought that artists should not only inherit tradition, but also should develop tradition by continuously innovating. Xu bears Qi Baishi's remarks in mind firmly, like "the one who learns from me will succeed, the one whose works are similar to mine will fail", "you should learn from my mind instead of my hands", and his main emphasis "one's moral quality is the most important thing. If a painter isn't generous, then there won't be boldness in his paintings either". Through very hard learning and practicing, Xu has created his own unique style and become a student who not only inherits but also develops the art of Qi Baishi. Qi has given Xu much praise. When Xu is painting, he holds on his breath and paints boldly. His works are filled with vigor and vividness.



There are collections of his works in many museums, art galleries, and hotels both at home and abroad. There are columns about his works in a lot of magazines and TV programs. Many overseas museums and collectors also regard his works as precious.


Becoming a Student of Qi Baishi


Xu linlu's original name is Xu Delin. He was born in a fishing family on October 19th, 1916. When he was 4 years old, cholera spread throughout his hometown, so his father took the whole family to Tianjin.


Xu Linlu's father Xu Shuting was a very smart man. It took him only 10 years to build up a corporation supplying flour machines to north China. Xu Shuting wanted his son to be a businessman as well. On the contrary, Xu Linlu showed his interest in painting beginning in childhood. He would often imitate paintings from books thousands of times. Xu took no interest in business, even though he graduated from a business school. During school he was more likely to be found spending his time in bookstores and paint shops.


Once, Xu was particularly attracted to a picture in a store. It was a picture in which an oversized magpie stood on a watermelon. Xu was impressed by this painting, but had no idea that this painting was a work of Qi Baishi, who would soon become his teacher.


In 1945, 29-year-old Xu Linglu moved to Beijing together with his family. After arriving in Beijing, he went to visit Li Kuchan. Both loved the works of Qi Baishi very much. Soon they became close friends. At that time, Li was already a student of Qi Baishi, so he introduced Xu to Qi, and as a result, Xu became a student of Qi Baishi, who was already 81 years old at that time. Qi also gave Xu the name "Linlu". During the following 14 years, Xu stayed with Qi, and learned quite a lot from him.




Qi Baishi had a penchant in painting shrimps. He kept a basin of shrimps and watched them every day. When Qi was painting, Xu would monitor his strokes very carefully, and began to imitate them. Before long, people were taking Xu's paintings of shrimps as Qi's. And Xu gained the epithet "Qi Baishi in the Eastern City". Hearing this, Xu started to become proud of himself. At that moment, his teacher told him seriously, "the one who learns from me will succeed, while the one whose works are like mine will fail; you should learn from my mind instead of my hands."  


On hearing his teacher's words, Xu realized what he should really be learning from his teacher. It was here that Xu began to truly understand life, and how to integrate one's experiences into art. He also used 8 words to conclude what he had learned: "find a door in, break the door out". On one hand, he inherits his teacher's style. On the other hand, he has done in-depth research one big names in arts, like Xu Qingteng, Shi Tao, the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou and so on. In any case, he was able to create his own unique style of painting.


"To be happy is enough"


Xu's wife Wang Lingwen still remembers a fight she and Xu had on their wedding day. The fight started when Xu pawned his ring and used the money to buy pictures. When walking into their new house, Wang was very surprised to find that there was almost nothing there, prompting her to ask, "Where are your clothes?" Xu had pawned them all. This was the true Xu, one caring about nothing but pictures.


During the Culture Revolution, Xu was sent to Hubei Province. He lived in a cowshed there planting vegetables and feeding ducks and pigs. To his surprise, it was said that people were allowed to paint once again. It had been a long time since Xu had painted. He was so excited that he put a paper on the table at once, and with just several strokes, two vivid fish were already on the paper. He looked at the painting and felt great happiness. Since then, he began to paint mountains and rivers after work every day. He stuck those paintings on the wall and was able to enjoy himself very much.


Huang Yongyu once spoke highly of Xu, saying, "Xu is generous and kind, and enjoys himself very much in painting. His experiences, knowledge, quality and values are like a thick cultural book. A rich and colorful cultural book."


Xu's paintings are filled with vigor. He integrates his natural innocence and curiosity into his paintings. He always catches the most expressive detail, presenting the true essence of things, and bestowing upon his paintings an emotional mark.


Xu's paintings originate from his feelings towards nature and his perception of life.


Qi Baishi once said, "The excellence of a painting lies in its similarity, but also its differences. Too much similarity flatters a vulgar taste; too much variation deceives the world." Xu understands this principle, and catches the most essential characteristics of these things. Xu is quite fond of opera and the other folk art of China, and integrates them into his paintings.


(chinaculture September 29, 2006)

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