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Remembering a Pioneer of Modern Chinese Art

Liu Haisu was one of the pioneers of the modern Chinese art movement who introduced Western art to China. He was also the founding father of modern Chinese art education.

"Liu's life is closely associated with the development of modern Chinese art history," said museum curator Zhang Peicheng.

Liu was born into a merchant's family in Changzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, in 1896. He began to learn painting at the age of 6 by studying line drawings, a simple and elegant genre of traditional Chinese painting art.

At 13, he went to Shanghai, hoping to study Western painting. He was delighted to discover the works of Velzquez and Goya, which he copied to learn Western oil and watercolor techniques.

Liu was skilled at both oil and ink painting.

Even before going to Europe, Liu was familiar with Western art through art albums at foreign-language bookstores.

In 1912, the first year of the new Chinese republic, Liu established the Shanghai Art Academy (as his school was later called), predecessor of the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts.

He also worked with an unidentified teacher who had studied Western painting in Japan and briefly attended Aurora University, which was run by French Catholic missionaries.

The classes included lessons in life-drawing, anatomy, perspective, and the use of Western media, such as watercolor, oils and gouache. "Liu Haisu, an art educator with a strong pioneering sense, was a major influence in the introduction of impressionism and post-impressionism in modern China," pointed out Shui Tianzhong, a Beijing-based art historian. "He spread new trends of Western painting with great passion."

As early as in June 1919, Liu introduced impressionism in his book "A Brief History of Western Landscape Painting."

Liu's early oil paintings, both in terms of composition and use of light and color, betrayed the strong influence of French impressionist painters, Shui said.

In 1914, Liu adopted the teaching methods of most Western art academies including Western style, nude figure paintings.

"For much of his long life, Liu has devoted time and energy to teaching at art academies and nurturing young Chinese artists," said Feng Jianqin, dean of Nanjing Art Academy, which was also founded by Liu in the mid-1950s.

"As a veteran artist and art educator, Liu never stopped exploring new possibilities in his painting art during the ups and downs in his life. He set a good example for his contemporaries," said Zhang.

Liu kept doing Chinese ink paintings during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) when he was thrown into the whirlwind of social and political chaos.

The elderly artist frequented Mount Huangshan in Anhui Province in the 1980s, later bringing out his painting albums and books on art education.

In early August 1994, Liu donated all his works and collection of ancient Chinese paintings to the government.

On August 7, 1994, Liu died in a Shanghai hospital. In 1995, the Liu Haisu Art Museum was opened.

(China Daily March 9, 2006)

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