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After World War II, Xie Zhiliu (1910–1997) moved to Shanghai, where he served as an artistic adviser and connoisseur of painting and calligraphy for the Shanghai Museum (founded in 1952), as well as a professor of painting. Working from the museum's rich holdings of Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasty paintings (topics on which he also published), Xie greatly enriched and expanded his style.

Xie first became fascinated with Song dynasty (960–1279) painting in his late twenties, experimenting with the monumental "northern" style notable for its massive mountain forms, emphatic, angular contours, and "raindrop" or "axe-cut" texture strokes. Later, he grew increasingly interested in the diverse styles of the "southern" masters, ranging from the ropey, "hemp-fiber" brushstrokes of Dong Yuan (act. 930s–960s) to the lyrical, evocative style of ink wash practiced by Liang Kai (ca. 1150?–ca. 1220?). In both instances, Xie modified the work of his predecessors by simplifying their detailed brushwork and adding richer colors, creating his own elegant style of landscape painting that was at once substantial and decorative.