The 100th anniversary of the birth of Xu Beihong, a master painter and renowned Chinese artist, was commemorated in a five-coin set produced in 1995. The coins feature renderings of some of his most exquisite works, including paintings of a cat, a horse, a lion, and a water buffalo.
Known mainly for his Chinese ink paintings featuring horses and birds, he was also recognised as a highly skilled oil painter and was considered adept at combining core western artistic techniques with traditional Chinese styles. He endlessly expanded the limits of Chinese art, employing new methods and ideas from abroad. As a teacher of art and mentor, he stressed the need to prioritise artistic expression and experience over technique – a move away from the strict tradition of Chinese calligraphy from which traditional Chinese art evolved. His influence as a painter and teacher of art extended beyond the borders of China, to the rest of the world.
He was born in 1895 in Yixing in Jiangsu province. From an early age, at just six years old, he commenced his studies of calligraphy under the guidance of his father. Aged nine, he started to study Chinese painting. In 1915 he moved to Shanghai where he stayed for two years after which, in 1917, he travelled to Japan to study the arts in Tokyo. Upon his return to China, he taught art in Beijing.
Not long after, in 1919, Xu Beihong went to Paris to study drawing and painting in oils. It was at this time in Europe that he acquired many of the western artistic techniques that he would later combine with more traditional Chinese themes to create his distinctive style. In 1927 he once again returned to China. Between 1927 and 1929 he held several posts at educational institutions around China. From that time until his death in 1953, he primarily organised exhibitions and taught art. The proceeds from several of his exhibitions were donated to charitable causes.
Aside from the 1995 set of coins celebrating the centenary of his birth, Xu Beihong’s life and work is also acknowledged and admired on other coin sets issued by the China Mint, particularly on several coins which form part of the famous and highly collectable Lunar coins series.