Property of the Wu Family
Xu Beihong gifted this painting to Wu Zhifan (ca. 1904-ca. 1950), who was the elder brother of the artist Wu Zuoren (1908-1997). Wu Zhifan was born in Suzhou and moved to Shanghai with his family. He eventually settled in Hong Kong. A chemical engineer by training, Wu Zhifan became CEO of the well known producer of food seasoning and additives, Tien Chun Ve-Tsin Chemical Ltd.
Wu Zhifan was fond of the arts and played the suona wind instrument in his family orchestra. Family friends with Xu Beihong, he asked the artist for a painting during one of Xu's regular visits to Hong Kong. Soon afterward Xu gave Wu Zhifan this powerful portrait of a horse and wrote the dedication to him.
Xu Beihong first met Wu Zuoren in 1927, when the younger artist caught Xu's attention while he was teaching at the Nanguo Academy of the Arts in Shanghai. In the next year, Wu Zuoren followed his teacher to the National Central University in Nanjing. Soon afterward, at Xu Beihong's advice and with his assistance, Wu Zuoren went abroad and studied painting for several years in Europe. Like Xu, Wu Zuoren painted in both Western oil and Chinese traditional techniques, although both artists eventually favored the latter. The connection between the two artists continued and both taught in the 1940s in the Art College in Beijing.
During his career Xu Beihong painted many pictures of horses in various postures. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) these images became particularly important, both as symbolic representations of China's strength and perseverance and as fund raisers to support the war effort. While Xu's equines are characteristically powerful, vibrant, and rendered with anatomical precision, only his best examples have such detailed musculature and brushstrokes that suggest a play of light across the horse's torso. It is exceptional to find an example where Xu took the time to delineate the teeth and the horse's eye. The close attention to modeling that is particularly visible in the head reveals Xu's skill as a draughtsman and his interest in using Western techniques to enhance Chinese traditional paintings. Another rare example with these qualities is a very similar painting of a standing horse that Xu painted in the same year and is now in the Xu Beihong Museum in Beijing (see Taisei Stamps and Coins Pte Ltd., The Art of Xu Beihong, 1990, p. 52.