In the world of Chinese art, Qi Baishi is a well-known name with his simple and whimsical brush paintings.
Qi Baishi was born in 1864 and grew up as a peasant and carpenter who never had any formal training in the arts. He did not begin to paint until he was an adult, and began traveling around China. Unlike the fate of most artists, his brush paintings were very popular during his lifetime and Qi Baishi found his paintings in high demand with collectors as he got older.
As a respected artist of the times, he was president of the Association of Chinese Artists as well as an honorary chairman of the National Artist’s Association. One of the reasons he was so well respected in the art world was that he kept politics out of his work during a time when politics in China were very much part of daily life.
Some of his brush paintings were done under pseudonyms, such as Qi Huang and Qi Weiqing, and his own name has been spelled as Chi Pai Shi on occasion.
Though Qi Baishi has taken on many subjects in his art, most of his work focused on natural scenes including many depictions of animals and plants.He produced many beautiful brush paintings of birds, horses, tigers, mice, fish and a whole range of colorful flower blossoms. He also seemed to have a particular fondness for shrimp, a less-common artistic subject. Anything that caught his eye could become a subject, so his work is very diverse.
Landscape painting was also part of his work, and he did many lovely paintings of mountain scenes including one of the Great Wall. One trip that he took resulted in a series of 50 landscape paintings known as “Chieh-shan t’u-chuan”.
The style of his work was very simple, including pieces that are done in black ink as well as colored. Some paintings are very intricate and show a great deal of small details, and yet some are done with large bold strokes that are almost abstract. Many of his pieces have calligraphy and short poetry as well. Though his work may seem “typical” of Chinese artwork, he often went against the current trends and painted in whatever way he wanted rather than by what was expected at the time.
He took on various traits and styles from other artists during his life, and allowed himself to be influenced by a number of others without reservation. He was friends with Wu Changshuo and picked up some traits from him and the Shanghai School.
Painting wasn’t his only contribution to the world of Chinese art either. He was an excellent sculptor as well, though he mainly only carved stone seals. Apparently, he had a collection of hundreds of them.
He was a prolific painter and produced many thousands of works up until his death in 1957. His painting titled “Eagle Standing on Pine Tree” sold at auction in 2011 for approximately $65 million dollars, so his popularity has definitely not diminished over the years. His influence in Chinese art is still seen today in many contemporary examples of Chinese painting.