The Life and Times of Qi Baishi (齐白石/Ch’i Pai-shih)
When looking at Qi Baishi’s vita, one might be surprised that someone with originally no connection to painting should become one of the greatest and most famous ink painters of modern times. Although taking painting very seriously throughout his life, it seems as if fame did not come to him until the last decade of his life.
Xu Wei must be one of the most tragic figures in the whole of Chinese painting history, who suffered a number of setbacks during his lifetime: When he was 14, his mother died. His first wife, whom he married at the age of 21, died five years later. Xu attempted to enter civil services, but failed the examinations eight times. He nevertheless managed to serve among the coastal guards, but when his leader got arrested, Xu Wei feared for his life. His mental imbalance – academics today believe that it was caused by Bipolar Disorder – led him to attempt suicide nine times and to kill his second wife, being paranoid that she would betray him. He was imprisoned for seven years and freed at the age of 53. He later applied himself to painting, poetry, and his work as a playwright.
With a mother who was the Emperor Yinzong’s wet-nurse, Mi Fu grew up in the very center of the Chinese empire; knowing the Imperial family and mingling freely among the members of the Song Dynasty rulers. He was a very intelligent boy, particularly gifted in remembering and reciting poems, as well as calligraphy, although he despised formal training.
When Ni Zan (1301–1374) was born at the beginning of the 14th century, the Mongol rulers had been occupying the Chinese throne for about twenty years. Being suspicious about Chinese officials, they rather employed their own people for high-ranking positions. Many Chinese either refused to serve under the foreign rulers or wouldn’t even get the chance to do so. As for Ni Zan, the latter was the case. He was born into a wealthy family and enjoyed an extensive Confucian education, but never had the opportunity to get a position at court. Contemporary writings describe him as being arrogant, eccentric and over-sensitive, with constant fear of germs and the like. How much of this is true and how much made up rests unknown. In the 1340s, when a disastrous flood caused famines and the Mongol rulers imposed oppressive taxes, Ni Zan gave up his possessions to live on a houseboat and dedicate himself to painting.
A Short Biography of Xu Beihong (徐悲鸿 / Hsü Pei-hung)
Xu Beihong (1895 – 1953) belonged to the strongest painters in modern Chinese ink and wash painting. He was sent to France in 1919 by the Ministry of Education to study Art at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After graduation in 1923, he stayed in Europe and traveled around, examining the art of Berlin, Vienna and Zurich. He returned to Beijing in 1928 and became professor at numerous art institutions in Nanjing and Beijing. Until 1949, years were filled with exhibitions in China and in foreign countries. In 1953, he died of tuberculosis of only 57.