In this Year of the Horse, you’ll be seeing a lot of work by one particular Chinese artist. In fact, if you watched CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala, then you’ve already seen one of Xu Beihong‘s “Galloping Horse” paintings.
Originally from Yixing in Jiangsu province, Xu came to Beijing after study in Japan, and taught at Peking University. He learned art from his father, Xu Dazhang, who was also a painter. Although he did not live continuously in Beijing until the last 10 or so years of his life, Xu served as president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Having studied both Chinese and Western painting, Xu employed both styles, and sometimes combined the two. Earlier in his career he was in demand for portraits. Xu painted many different kinds of animals, including cats and birds. But it is his paintings of horses that remain among his most popular works now.
Painted using traditional Chinese watercolor ink, the horses are actually depicted in a Western style, charging towards the viewer. In the series, the animals are shown both individually and in small herds.
Xu died in 1953, in Beijing. Today his works can be seen at numerous museums, but his life and work are featured exclusively at the Xu Beihong Museum in Xicheng District. The site can be seen in a couple of hours, and can be combined with walks through nearby hutongs. If visiting during the Spring Festival holiday, call first to make sure they’re open. 53 Xinjiekou Beidajie, Xicheng District. 西城区新街口北大街53号. 6225 2042.
Photo: Denver Art Museum