Xu Beihong was a modern Chinese painter and educator known for his ink and oil paintings. Regarded as one of the Four Great Academy Presidents, Xu was a leading pioneer of modern Chinese art, portraying traditional Chinese subjects while utilising Western painting techniques. His paintings possess a striking sense of structure, light and colour.
Born in 1895, Yixing, Jiangsu, Xu grew up studying poetry and painting with his father Xu Dazhang. In 1916, he enrolled in Fudan University as a French major and travelled to Tokyo to study art. In 1919, Xu won a scholarship from the National High School of Art in Paris, and thus began his extensive education of oil painting and drawing at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Returning from abroad to Shanghai in 1927, Xu began teaching art at Nanguo Fine Arts College. He later took on the role of Dean at the School of Arts in Peking University and began teaching at the National Central University in 1929.
In 1932, Xu held a joint exhibition with Yan Wenliang in Nanjing. His four-metre-long oil painting Tian Heng and His 500 Retainers impressed many in the fields of arts and humanities.
In 1933, Xu began organising exhibitions of Chinese art in countries all around the globe. His influence spread internationally as he brought Chinese art to a wider audience. During World War ll, Xu held exhibitions in Singapore and India, using the profits to support Chinese refugees. He had the opportunity to meet with Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Ghandhi in India. His experience inspired the making of the piece The Foolish Man Who Removed the Mountains, a painting capturing the ancient Chinese fable and paying tribute to those who contributed to the construction of the Burma Road.
In 1949, Xu became president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. As an art educator, he had an immense impact on the modern Chinese art world. He advocated bringing together artistic ideas of the East and West, and emphasised the importance of sketching as grounds for further artistic pursuits. He nurtured group after group of creative, independent artists including Sun Zongwei, Ai Zhongxin, Wu Zuoren, Wang Shikuo and Dai Ze. Xu died in 1953 in Beijing at the age of 58.