The Feng Wen Tang Collection of Chinese Paintings
The Feng Wen Tang collection comprises 25 works by Qi Baishi, which is the result of passion, dedication and commitment over the years, whereby the collector searched out works by the artist, pursuing a vision that became reality. These works comprehensively cover Qi Baishi's achievements in fields of birds and flowers, to figures, landscape and calligraphy, enabling collectors to appreciate and admire the artist's development and achievements over the years.
Qi Baishi was born into a destitute peasant family in the city of Xiangtan in Hunan province. Despite being fond of painting since childhood, he was unable to apprentice under painters due to poverty and instead turned to wood carving as a means for livelihood. At the age of 16, in order to make a living, Qi apprenticed of Zhou Zhimei (1840-1906), mastered the skills of carving numerous classical characters. In his spare time Qi drew multiple mythical and Buddhist figures by copying the illustrations in the "Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden". At 26, he started to study figure painting formally, as a student of Xiao Chuanxin.
In 1889, when Qi was 27, he became a student of Hu Zizhuo (Qinyuan; 1847-1914), a renowned literati artist in Hunan province, and began to receive more formal artistic training in landscape and flowers and birds painting.
Influenced by his masters, Qi mostly painted figure paintings in the gongbi ("meticulous brushwork") style, and studied after the "Four Wangs", as well as Bada Shanren, in his early years. From 1902 to 1909 Qi took a total of five important journeys. During the journeys, Qi got numerous chances of seeing magnificent landscapes in different parts of China and studying from a lot of works by important painters in the collection of his friends, finally established his own xieyi ("freehand") style in landscape painting and figure painting.
In the field of birds and flowers painting, he was convinced by his friend Chen Shizeng (1876-1923) to change from the techniques learned from Bada Shanren to a new style which was a strong colour contrast between flamboyant flowers, fruits, leaves and branches, in green and ink. The five important journeys and the reformation in his late years pushed him to stepped out of the aged tradition and establish his unique style.
Qi Baishi's early exposure to the craft of painting was in figures. Qi's first painting was that of Lei Gong, the God of Thunder. At 27, Qi started to paint figures for sale. To satisfy demand, he mainly painted classical female characters, the most sought-after subjects, as well as some mythical and historical figures. In the following decade the artist continued painting figures in the gongbi style.
In 1902, the 40-year-old artist went to the city of Xi'an to teach painting. During his stay there he became friends with Fan Zengxiang (1846-1931), a poet who was also a collector of classical paintings. After seeing Fan's collection, especially the works by Bada Shanren (1626-1705) and Jin Nong (1687-1763), the artist, deeply impressed, thought that his own gongbi-style paintings placed too much emphasis on depicting the appearance of figural subjects, overlooking the importance of capturing their inner essence. Consequently, the interpretive and freely expressive xieyi style, meaning "sketching thoughts" in Chinese, gradually won his favour.
Qi's xieyi style was firmly established after he was 60. Marked by mostly empty backgrounds and simple compositions, his paintings usually feature one to two figures, executed with a thick brush, aiming to accentuate their spirit and energy through bold and lively brushwork.