Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986
Not on view
Xu Beihong was the most influential proponent of Western academic realism in twentieth-century China. Inspired by the political reformer Kang Youwei (1858–1927), who advocated "an integration of Chinese and Western art to create a new era of Chinese painting," Xu traveled to Japan in 1917 to study Western art and returned the following year to become an art instructor at Beijing University. In 1919 Xu became the first government-sponsored student to go to Europe to study art. Until 1927 he studied in Paris and Berlin, mastering an already moribund academic style.
This painting exemplifies Xu's fusion of East and West. While he employed the conventional Chinese medium of brush and ink, his drawing technique was purely Western. Rather than defining the horse with calligraphically energized outlines, he sketched it impressionistically, integrating light and dark washes and uninked areas of paper to suggest light and shadow. The horse's complex pose-foreshortened body, twisting neck, and naturalistically placed legs is deftly rendered with a few well-practiced brushstrokes, while the layered tones of the animal's tail give the impression of movement.
Recalling the tradition of the horse as an emblem of state, Xu's spirited animals appeal to national pride. He painted so many of them that they have become synonymous with his name. Xu made this early example for Qi Baishi's son when going to visit Qi's house. Qi explains in his inscription that Xu failed to bring his seals, which is why the painting lacks an impression.
Signature: Beihong Dated to the end of 1932
Artist's inscription: The short grass covers only the horse's hooves. Dedicated to Zichang.
Inscription: Written by Qi Baishi: Four years ago my friend Mr. Xu came to my Jiexhan Studio. My son, Zichang asked him to do this small painting. Huiqing would be honored to have Mr. Xu's painting, and so I requested my son to give it to him. The 12th month of 1935, Baishi Qi Huang.
When Beihong painted this picture, he didn't bring his seal with him. So there is no seal on it. Baishi shanweng, again.
Marking: Collectors' seals: Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (two)
Calligrapher's seals: Laobai (square, white characters) Lao Qi (square, red characters)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Painting: Selections from the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection," February 2, 1988–September 25, 1988.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Between Two Cultures: A Selection of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Chinese Paintings from the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection," January 30, 2001–August 19, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," August 28, 2004–February 20, 2005.