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Body & Soul

Chinese Figure Painting of the 20th Century

January 20, 2006 - January 20, 2006

Brian S. McElney, an important Gallery supporter from Bath, England, has donated over 350, twentieth century Chinese paintings to the Gallery over the past decade. Previously this collection has been featured in exhibitions at the Gallery entitled Romantic Landscapes and Birds, Beasts, Blossoms and Bugs. This exhibition features a sizeable number of paintings dealing with the subject matter of the human figure.

The Chinese portrayal of faces and full figures can be quite different from Western depictions. A Chinese figure painter never tried to portray the exact physical likeness of the human subject, but rather a composite of what seemed to be the essence or spirit of the person, based on the artist?s knowledge and understanding of the subject’s personality and status in life. While the figures are realistic, there is often a degree of exaggeration in physical features and facial expressions. Chinese figure painters often liked to paint old, wrinkled people and attempted to portray an inner poetic reality rather than an outward likeness. They painted what they consider the essential elements, in most cases, using the fewest possible strokes.

The Chinese artist is an impressionist in that he or she feels free to omit objects or backgrounds which are not essential to their thought. However, they seldom go to the point of abstraction, as there is always a degree of realism present.

With a sparing use of ink, Chinese figure painters create a visual effect which is quite captivating and in sharp contrast to the photo-likenesses of Western paintings with their problems of volume, light, shadow and texture. In fact, the Chinese were never interested in the study of scientific perspective which has so engrossed Western artists. Often the lines of their work are rough, bold and unrestrained.

Featured in this exhibition are four paintings by Ma Xinle. Ma found his inspiration from direct contacts with people during his sojourns in the countryside. He carefully observed and then sketched the peasants in their local costumes, performing their daily tasks. He never had his subjects to pose for him. In order to get the natural expressions of the people, he would secretly watch and record their behavior. In this way, Ma developed a strong spiritual connection with the people he portrayed.

Also included in this exhibition are works from artists such as Cheng Shifa, Huang Zhou, Fan Zeng, Ding Yanyong, Feng Zikai, Guan Liang, Li Jin, Zhou Sicong and Shao Fei.

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