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Xu Beihong


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(b Yixing, Jiangsu province, 19 July 1895; d Peking [Beijing], 26 Sept. 1953).

Chinese painter, teacher, and administrator, the most important figure in introducing Western ideas about art to his country. From 1919 to 1927 he lived in Europe (with one brief trip home), travelling widely and studying in Paris (at the École des Beaux-Arts) and Berlin. After his return to China he held a variety of teaching and administrative posts in Shanghai, Peking, and Nanjing, and when the country became the People's Republic of China in 1949 he was appointed director of the newly founded Central Academy of Fine Arts and chairman of the National Artists' Association. Xu's work ranges from ink drawings of galloping horses (it is for these that he is perhaps best known in the West) to large figure compositions, often on patriotic themes. They were decidedly old-fashioned by European standards, but his style was novel to most Chinese eyes and it was highly influential, proving completely compatible with the Soviet-inspired Socialist Realism that became the official artistic idiom in Communist China in the 1950s. There is a museum dedicated to Xu in Beijing.

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