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Chinese Tradition in Western Oil

21/2/2020 - 30/5/2020


Oil painting is a medium of Western art that has long been popular among Chinese painters. Yet their works often feature elements of traditional Chinese paintings. The portrayal of figures focuses on essence rather than form while landscape emphasises interpretation rather than reality. Oil paint is employed to draw calligraphic lines and depict local livelihood, demonstrating painters’ scholarly temperament and Chinese heritage. The exhibition showcases the oil paintings by 24 artists from different periods, including the legendary Pan Yu Lin, the “Matisse of the East” Ding Yanyong, the “Three Musketeers” in Paris Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh Chun and Zao Wou Ki, as well as Shen Ping, Yu Zhongbao and Liu Cheng Mui and other active contemporary painters from Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China. Manipulating Western oil to express the oriental essence of Chinese art, these artists break with aesthetic conventions and start a movement of innovation with a touch of tradition.

PAN Yu Lin DING Yanyong
WU Guanzhong CHU Teh Chun
WONG Pui Kong TSUI Chee Kui
CHUNG Yiu CHAN Chiu Lung
LIN Ming Chen SHEN Ping
HO Siu Chung LAM Man Kong
CHAU Shik Hung AU Ka Lam
TSE Ching YU Zhongbao
NG Chung POON Yeuk Fai
LIU Cheng Mui WU Chun Yin

Message from director

Female figures in traditional Chinese paintings are often aristocrats or beauties. This genre is called shinü hua (gentlewomen painting) that depicts the elegant physiques of Chinese women. Since the 20th century, Chinese painters have produced numerous figure paintings and portraits under the influence of Western oil paintings yet they are not bound by the practice of realistic depiction in Western art. Their works featured female subjects with the aim to present feminine beauty while often omitting unpleasant flaws.

The shading technique of figure paintings was introduced from Central Asia through the silk road trade during the 4th to 5th century. Celestial figures such as apsarasa with nude upper bodies were often portrayed in Buddhist mural paintings of the Dunhuang Grottoes. In fact, foreign painting style has long been accepted among Chinese painters. However, nude painting has failed to gain popularity due to confining moral norms.

In the 20th century, Chinese painters who studied in France introduced body art which created the largest Western impact on the Chinese art scene in history. Yet overall, nude oil paintings by Chinese painters still preserved the essence of traditional gentlewomen paintings. Artists usually highlighted the body shape and tenderness of a female subject with oil paint, constituting a traditional Chinese painting of beauty.

For landscape paintings, Chinese painters have always produced imaginary and selected compositions instead of realistic depictions. Unlike Western landscape paintings, the depicted scenery is an expressive interpretation. Thus, this genre is known as shanshui hua (mountain and water painting). Chinese painters in the 20th century demonstrated such free-style expression to a further extent. Abandoning the physical forms of mountains and rivers, they visualised their impression of the scenery and produced a shanshui hua of Abstract Expressionism.

It is not the case that Chinese painters do not create realistic landscape paintings. At the time when transportation was not well-developed, it was inconvenient for our ancestors to travel, especially to cities afar. Hence through paintings, they were able to enjoy the scenic views of cities and the countryside near and far. This type of genre painting (fengsu hua) is like shanshui hua; neither are exactly a documentation of reality. Painters set focal points to highlight the subject, either by enlarging the area or strengthening the colour tone, and to tone down secondary images.

Today, oil painting from Western art has gained wide popularity among Chinese painters. Inspired by Chinese calligraphy however, oil paint is frequently employed to draw lines making lines and masses of colour equally important. These unique characteristics can be found in both figure paintings and landscape paintings. Following the traditions of Chinese painting, the portrayal of figures focuses on essence rather than form while landscape emphasises on interpretation rather than reality. Both embodying literary ambience and poetic imageries, Chinese oil paintings parallel lyrical ink paintings.

YEUNG Chun Tong
Director, Sun Museum


Exhibition Catalogue

Editor: Elaine NGAN
2020, hardcover, Chinese/English, 80 pages, 23.5 x 31 cm
ISBN: 978-988-78197-2-1

A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue featuring 46 oil paintings by 24 artists from different periods, including Pan Yu Lin, Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh Chun, Zao Wou Ki, Yu Zhongbao and Liu Cheng Mui.

Price: HKD$100

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