Wu Zuoren was a traditional Chinese master painter. He was considered by the artistic community to be a man of great ability and as a result enjoyed a good reputation. He specialised in oil painting as well as traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, combining the disciplines acquired while studying oil painting in Europe with the more traditional Chinese style to create flowing, smooth, yet precise paintings.
Born in Suzhou in Jiangsu Province in 1908, his ability was first recognised by Xu Beihong (1895-1953), considered one of China’s greatest modern artists, while Wu was studying at Shanghai Art University in 1927. He followed Xu Beihong to Nanjing University in 1928. After his studies in China, he was recommended by Xu Beihong to travel to Europe to continue his studies in 1930. He came back to China in 1935 having graduated from the Royal Institute of Fine Arts in Brussels.
By the late 1940s, his work was already featured in exhibitions in countries across Europe, including the UK, France, and Switzerland in 1947. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he became a professor and the first provost at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts where he taught for four years. In 1958 he became principal of the Academy.
In 1963 his paintings changed the face of modern China when he was given the chance to design a series of postage stamps for the PRC. The design he settled on was the giant panda. A first series was produced in 1963, followed by a second series in 1973 – again featuring paintings of giant pandas by Wu Zuoren. Another series was issued in 1985.
His paintings are featured on several commemorative Chinese coins, including some of the world-famous Panda series. One of his paintings of an eagle is also featured, along with a painting of an eagle by Xu Beihong, his mentor, on a 1995 two-coin series celebrating famous modern Chinese paintings.