The human figure is a popular subject in traditional Chinese paintings, and it appeared well before the landscape and the birds-and-flowers. After the discovery of early murals and silk paintings, Chinese figure painting became well-known. Following the Song and Yuan dynasties, birds-and-flowers painting and landscape painting gradually replaced figure painting as the mainstream. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, figure painting was even in decline compared with the landscape painting and birds-and-flowers painting. However, some masters of figure painting still exist since the Sui and Tang dynasties. They are the one who devoted themselves to preserving the tradition of Chinese figure painting.
In modern China, due to the turmoil of the current situation and the continuous development of society, traditional figure painting has entered a new stage. The concept of Western painting re-inspired figure painting, giving it renewed vitality and a fresh style. At the beginning of the last century, the paintings which serve metaphorical and satirical aims became popular. Artists created a series of comic-style figure paintings with profound intentions, vivid characters and exaggerated techniques. In the 1930s and 1940s, a group of artists who were under the influence of Western notions tried to reflect life, expose reality, and alert the world through figure paintings. After the founding of New China, figure painting once again took the lead in the painting world. The lively and simple folk New Year pictures have won the favor of the public because of their artistic edifying function and the vigorous image of New China. During the 1950s and 1960s, the performance of contemporary figures and historical paintings were the main content of the artist's creation. After the Opening of China, the aim of figure painting has changed from patriotism to revealing the spiritual world of the characters and reflecting the oriental culture and charm.
This exhibition selects figure paintings of nearly 20 modern and contemporary Chinese painting masters, including Pu Ru, Wang Zhen, Yu Fei'an, Xu Cao, Guan Liang, Dai Dunbang, Cheng Shifa, Zhu Xinjian, Liu Danzhai, Mao Guolun, Shi Dawei, Wu Tongli, etc. The exhibition uncovers characters and stories drawn from Taoist gods, historical figures, customs and legends, and famous operas. From ancient times to the present, figure painting strives to portray the character’s personality vividly with both form and spirit. Through inheriting the tradition from the old masters, modern and contemporary painters innovate in composition, color, line drawing, conception, etc., and create new ideas. Those paintings closely integrate with the social background of the times and continuously bring new life to the traditional figures.