Origin of Oil Painting in Zhejiang


Edited BY:Liu Yifan



"Artists Elegance - A Century of Oil Painting in Zhejiang" has been exhibited in Zhejiang Art Museum from December 12, 2022 to February 12, 2023. It hopes to show artists' efforts in developing oil painting creation innovatively in Zhejiang Province. They go deep into life and take root in the people to create classic works with local features, distinctive colors of the times and unique artistic styles. 



The exhibition involves more than 280 oil paintings of the old, middle and young generations of oil painters, telling the story of generation after generation of art "new youth" in different periods of creation. The exhibition is divided into four sections: "Century-old Epic", "Magnificent Preservation", "Walking like rainbow" and "Preserving the essence of a thousand things". Taking century-old history of Zhejiang oil painting, historical and thematic oil painting works, representative works of Zhejiang oil painting masters, and art research cases of Zhejiang oil painters as clues, the exhibition displays the excellent works of Zhejiang oil painting masters and achievements of Zhejiang oil painting in major historical themes over the past one -hundred years. It is also intended to present the new concepts of contemporary Zhejiang oil painting in recent years, highlight the profound cultural deposits and spirit of Zhejiang to keep pace with the times.



Oil paintings belong to western paintings and have been in close links with Zhejiang province since they were introduced to China. It is widely believed by the academic circles that Ricci Matteo, a famous Italian preacher, brought oil paintings of holy pictures to China, and the intellectuals in Jiangsu and Zhejiang province could truly feel the vividness of the western paintings, which seemed like the same images in the mirror. However, in ancient China, when literati paintings were the focus, western paintings were not accepted by the upper intellectuals.



As China opened to the world, western paintings truly and gradually came into the sight of Chinese. In 1876, Li Gui went to Philadelphia to attend the World Expo, which was for commemorating the 100th anniversary of America. At the painting and scripture exhibition in Philadelphia, he had witnessed paintings of impressionist school featured by direct drawing with impression.



Ricci Matteo


Li Gui



A legendary female named Qian Shanshili whose husband was Qian Xun who once was an ambassador of the Netherlands and Italy. She was immersed in classical and historical books when she was a child and received good education. Before 1900, a minority of women, less than a few percent of them, went to Europe and America and could be regarded as observers. Moreover, a few could express their own thoughts and insights by writing books. Qian Shanshili might be the first Chinese to use the term "oil painting" and had a good eye for art and abundant appreciation experience. Besides applying expression skills of light and lines, she could acutely notice the differences between European oil paintings and Japanese oil paintings.


Qian Shanshili


For a long time, people regard Li Shutong as the first Chinese to study oil painting overseas. But today we know that Li Tiefu arrived in the United States as early as 1887, and later went to Britain to study oil painting at Arlington Academy of Fine Arts. He is currently recognized as one of the earliest Chinese students to study oil painting in the West. However, if it comes to the influence of Chinese modern art, Li Shutong's position is still beyond doubt.


In 1905, Li Shutong went east to Japan. The next year, Zhejiang Liangji Normal School was established and Li Shutong taught at the school in 1912. In Hangzhou, he took the lead in teaching plaster statues, human body sketching and landscape sketching. Meanwhile, Li Shutong also incorporated the teaching of watercolor and oil painting techniques into the curriculum system. It not only marks the beginning of Zhejiang modern art education in a strict sense, but also marks the historical starting point of Zhejiang oil painting. It is one of the most important historical contributions of Li Shutong to Chinese oil painting that he introduced the scientific system of Western painting into school education and practiced it.



Li Shutong


Nude Figure Drawing class


In 1907, Cai Yuanpei went to Germany to study. The experience of studying abroad in Leipzig University completely influenced the formation of his future educational thoughts. At this time, CAI Yuanpei had firmly implemented the idea of "aesthetic education", which was based on his experience of learning Western art and reading Kant's aesthetic works in Germany, which is also based on the Chinese feudal biography Reflections on unification education. In his opinion on educational policy, he explicitly stated, the beauty of science and art is the core of new education.


Cai Yuanpei first saw the young Lin Fengmian at the Art Exhibition in Strasbourg, France in June 1924. At that time, the number of Chinese students studying oil painting around the world had become spectacular, the prologue of Chinese modern higher art education is about to open, and the century-old history of Zhejiang oil painting would also enter a new chapter.


Cai Yuanpei was in Germany in 1908


China art Exhibition