IAC Art Talks Lecture 6: Chinese Modernist Artists and the Literati Spirit: the Life and Work of Lin Fengmian and Sanyu by Dapeng Liu (Catch up Online)

This event was held on Thursday 19 October 2023


The earliest encounters with Western art in China can be traced back to the late 16th century — a time when European Jesuit missionaries started their activities in the East. However, it was not until the early 20th century that Western art began profoundly shaping China’s art scene. At that time a considerable number of students were passionately pursuing their art education in Europe, the United States and Japan, while Western-style art schools, associations and societies were developing at home. This flourishing art period in China between the 1910s and the late 1930s, widely covered in the press and publications of that period, has been named the Western-Style Painting Movement (yanghua yundong洋画运动).

Among these early advocates of Western art, some followed the academic style as seen in Xu Beihong’s (1895-1953) work, but others immersed themselves in the vibrant world of modern art, delving into Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, and so on. A pivotal figure of this cohort of Chinese modernist painters is Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), who studied art in France in the early 1920s and later returned to China, as did some of his peers, devoting many years to art education. On the contrary, a rare case from this generation is a Chinese French modernist painter, Sanyu (1895-1966), who arrived and studied art in Paris at the same time as Lin but then stayed on to live and work there. Other than two years spent in New York from 1948-1950, Sanyu remained in Paris until his death and was largely unknown to the public and the art world until the late 1990s.

Both Lin and Sanyu were born at the dusk of the last imperial dynasty of China, and in their teenage years witnessed drastic social and cultural changes. They embraced the ‘new art’ from the West in their young adult years, but subsequently led very different lives. Despite distinct approaches and the apparent modernist style, both artists produced works that often resonate with traditional Chinese aesthetics in art rooted in the spirit of the literati.

Delving into the captivating works of Lin Fengmian and Sanyu, key figures in modern Chinese art, my presentation reveals the tension and harmony between tradition and innovation and uncovers this intriguing segment of art history.

About the Speakerdapeng liu

Born in Beijing in 1982, Dapeng Liu started to draw and paint from a very early age. Currently residing in Sydney, Dapeng became a full-time artist in 2014, working primarily with oil and water-based mediums. On the path of his artistic exploration, through experiments in colour, representational and abstract forms, as well as different techniques of perspective, Dapeng interrogates and depicts the tension between old and new, East and West, as well as natural and manmade.

Dapeng studied visual communication for his Bachelor’s degree followed by a Master’s in art history from the University of Sydney, where he was the recipient of an Australian Post Graduate Award (APA scholarship) from the Federal Government. Dapeng’s research examined both traditional Chinese art and culture as well as the modernisation of art in China. This experience in art history has enabled Dapeng, as an artist, to critically engage with his main subject of creation — mountainscapes and waterscapes — that subsequently led to his larger question: that of the relationship between nature and humankind.

A three-time Archibald Prize finalist (2022, 2021, 2014), Dapeng’s highly commended painting Portrait of Yin Cao on blue-and-green landscape was among the top six shortlisted finalists of Archibald Prize 2014. His most recent solo exhibitions are: Dapeng Liu: Void, Western Sydney University (2022); Land Water Shapes, Art Atrium Sydney (2021) and Shan Shui Australis, Vermilion Art Sydney (2018). His works are held in private and public collections in Australia and internationally.