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Dong Kingman

 (1911 - 2000)
Dong Moy Chu Kingman was active/lived in California, New York.  Dong Kingman is known for watercolor modernist urban views-harbors, genre painting.

Dong Kingman

Biography from the Archives of askART

These Notes represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development.

The following obituary is from Dong Kingman Jr., son of the artist whose website is  The website gives information on the artist's national touring retrospective, "Dong Kingman - An American Master."

DONG KINGMAN (1911-2000)

Dong Kingman, the world-renowned artist and teacher, died in his sleep on May 12, 2000 at age 89 in his home in Manhattan.  The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Long acknowledged as an American watercolor master, he has received an extraordinary number of awards and honors throughout his 70-year career in the arts. Included are two Guggenheim fellowships in 1942 and 1943; the San Francisco Art Association First Purchase Prize, 1936; Audubon Artist Medal of Honor, 1946; Philadelphia Watercolor Club Joseph Pennel Memorial Medal, 1950; Metropolitan Museum of Art Award, and the National Academy Design 150th Anniversary Gold Medal Award, 1975.

In 1987, the American Watercolor Society awarded Dong Kingman its highest honor, the Dolphin Medal, "for having made outstanding contributions to art especially to that of watercolor."

His work is represented in the permanent collections of 50 museums and universities, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, M.H. deYoung Memorial Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, Des Moines Art Center, Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts, Brooklyn Museum and Hirshhorn Museum.

Born in Oakland, California in 1911 of Chinese descent, Kingman moved to Hong Kong at age five. He studied art and calligraphy in his formative years at the Lingnan School.  The painting master Szeto Wai had recently studied art in Paris and took a keen interest in young Dongs precocious talents.  He taught him both Chinese classical and French Impressionist styles of painting.  Kingman returned home to Oakland when he was 18 at the height of the Depression.  He worked as a newsboy and dishwasher to make ends meet.

When he was employed as a houseboy for the Drew family in San Francisco, he painted every spare moment.  In a year, he created enough pictures to have a one-man show at the Art Center.  It attracted the attention of San Francisco art critics who raved about Kingmans unique style.  Wrote Junius Cravens of the San Francisco News: "That young Chinese artist is showing 20 of the freshest and most satisfying watercolors that have been seen hereabouts in many a day Kingman already has developed that universal quality which may place a sincere artist work above the limitations of either racial characteristics or schools.  Kingmans art belongs to the world at large today."  Dong Kingman became an overnight success.

From 1936 to 1941, he was a project artist for WPA and became a pioneer for a new school of painting, the "California Style." His two Guggenheim fellowships enabled him to travel the country painting American scenes.  His first one-man show in New York at Midtown Galleries in 1942 was well received in the media, including Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker and American Artist.  M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco held a major exhibit of his watercolors in 1945.

In 1951, Midtown presented a 10-year retrospective of his work.  Time Magazine wrote, "At age 40, Kingman is one of the worlds best watercolorists."  Other retrospectives, including Corcoran in Washington,D.C. an d Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio, were held for the artist. Kingman moved to Wildenstein (1958-1969) where he had successful exhibits in New York, London and Paris. Hammer Galleries exhibited his paintings in the 70s, and then the artist expanded his venues to the West Coast and Far East.

During World War II, he served with the OSS in Washington, D.C. where he was a cartographer.  After his honorable discharge, Kingman moved to Brooklyn Heights from San Francisco when he became a guest lecturer and then art instructor at Columbia University (1946-1958).  Hunter College also appointed him instructor in watercolors and Chinese Art (1948-1953).  His teaching career continued with the Famous Artists School, Westport, CT in 1953, joining such distinguished artists on the faculty as Will Barnet, Stuart Davis, Norman Rockwell and Ben Shahn.

He also became a teaching member for 40 years for the Hewitt Painting Workshops, which conducts worldwide painting tours.  He taught at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, was a member of its board, and received an honorary doctorate from the Academy.

In 1954, the U.S. Department of State invited Kingman to go on a cultural exchange program tour around the world to give exhibitions and lectures and to meet local artists.  When he came home, he presented the State Department with a 40-foot long report on a scroll, which later appeared in LIFE Magazine.

One of Kingman's most treasured experiences was his invitation by the Ministry of Culture of the Peoples Republic of China to exhibit in that country in 1981.  He was the first American artist to be accorded a one-man show since diplomatic relations resumed.  More than 100,000 visitors attended his exhibitions in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou and the retrospective received critical acclaim from the Chinese press.  Noted the China Daily Mail, "Just as the master painters of the Song Dynasty roamed about mountain and stream to capture the rhythm of nature, Dong Kingman traveled the world capturing the dynamism of modern lifefamiliar scenes have been transformed into a vibrant new vision of life through color schemes with rhythms that play over the entire surface of the picture.  The wind swept skies which enliven his watercolors remind us of the pleinairism of the French Impressionists."

Kingman, who has been fascinated with movies since seeing his first film "The Thief of Baghdad",, distinguished himself in this field as well.  In 1954, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe directed and photographed the exceptional 15-minute documentary, "Dong Kingman."  Kingman produced, directed and animated "Hong Kong Dong" which received the Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Short Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1976.

Inevitably, Hollywood beckoned the celebrated watercolorist.  His watercolors were used to set the visual moods in the films "Flower Drum Song" (Universal, 1961) and "55 Days At Peking" (Allied Artists, 1963), both giving the artist film credit.  He served as technical advisor for "The World of Suzie Wong" (Paramount, 1964) and contributed his artwork to motion pictures including "Circus World" (Paramount, 1964); "King Rat" (Columbia, 1965); "The Sand Pebbles" (20th Century Fox, 1966); "The Desperados" (Columbia, 1969) and "Lost Horizons" (Columbia, 1973).

In the summer of 2000, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences highlighted Kingman's involvement in films with a special two-month exhibition "Dong Kingman: An American Master in Hollywood" that commemorated his film-related work in the permanent collection of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills, CA.

His books include: The Watercolors of Dong Kingman, text by Alan D. Gruskin, introduction by William Soroyan (Crowell, 1958); San Francisco: City On Golden Hills, Herb Caen/Dong Kingman (Doubleday, 1967);  Dong Kingmans Watercolors, with his wife Helena Kuo Kingman (Watson-Guptill, 1980);  Paint the Yellow Tiger, Dong Kingman (Sterling, 1991); and Portraits of Cities, Dong Kingman (22nd Century Film Corp., 1997).

He has executed many commissions from magazine covers for Time, Life, Fortune, New York Times, and Saturday Review, to murals for the Bank of California, Dime Savings Bank New York, Ambassador Hotel, Hong Kong, and the Boca Raton Hotel.  The mural East Meets West that he painted for the Lingnan Restaurant in Manhattan was rescued, restored and subsequently donated to the Brooklyn Public Library by Roslyn and Eugene Gamiel in 1997.  The mural is now installed in the Librarys Multilingual Center.  Among his posters, he created the OpSail, 1976 and 1986 editions as well as the 100th Anniversary of the Olympics Games poster for the Games held in Atlanta.

Among his charitable activities, he was the honored guest of Hong Kong Rotary International sponsored exhibit in June 1997 where the sale of his works at the handover festivities raised $70,000 for charities in Hong Kong.  He contributed numerous watercolors to charitable organizations, including the World Federation of United Nations Association Limited Edition art program and UNICEF.

In recent years, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan exhibited "40 Years of Watercolors by Dong Kingman" from November 1994 through January 1995.  In 1999, the Taichung Provincial Museum in Taiwan presented a retrospective of Dong Kingmans watercolor paintings.

A national touring retrospective,"Dong Kingman: An American Master" with venues at the Governors Gallery, Legislative Building, Olympia, WA; Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco, CA; Louisiana Arts & Science Center, Baton Rouge, LA; and Brooklyn Public Library, N.Y. began in the Fall of 2000 and closes at the end of 2001 in New York.  Washington's Governor Gary Locke commented,"I was looking at more than just paintings.  The artist deftly brings together elements of his Chinese heritage and life in America.  The paintings tell a story of a mans quest to unite the best of both his worlds."  The retrospective is being organized by the Institute of Chinese Culture and Arts and the curator is Monte James. Major funding is provided by the Starr Foundation.

In 2001, activities honoring the artist include the presentation of the first annual American Watercolor Society Dong Kingman award; establishment of a Dong Kingman fellowship in the Visual Arts Division at the Columbia University School of the Arts; inclusion in the "Leading the Way"exhibit of pioneering Asia American artists held at Gordon College, Massachusetts and an upcoming Dong Kingman exhibition being planned by the Chinese Historical Society of America to launch its new facilities in San Francisco.

Biography from the Archives of askART

These Notes represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development.

The following biography is from the website:

DONG KINGMAN (1911 - 2000)

Dong Kingman was born Dong Moy Shu on March 31, 1911 in Oakland, California. At age five he returned with his family to Hong Kong where his father established a dry goods business. According to Chinese custom, Kingman was given his new name when he entered school.  Hearing that he aspired to be an artist, his teacher gave him the name of King (scenery) Man (composition).  In later years he combined the two words into Kingman and following Chinese custom, he used the family name first and the given name second, thus Dong Kingman.

At the Chan Sun Wen School, Kingman excelled at calligraphy and watercolor painting, and while his family, including his mother, an amateur painter, didn't encourage him, he was not discouraged in his love of art.  He studied with Szeto Wai, the Paris-trained head of the Lingnan Academy, who introduced Kingman to Northern European trends.  Szeto Wai, he would acknowledge, was his "first and only true influence."

Kingman returned to Oakland, California in his late teens in 1929 and attended the Fox Morgan Art School while holding down a variety of jobs.  Here the artist decided to concentrate on watercolors.  At the time, Charles Burchfield, John Marin and George Grosz were the leading practitioners of the medium.  During the Depression era decade that followed, Kingman would emerge as one of America's leading artists and a pioneer of the California Style School of painting.  A 1936 solo exhibition at the San Francisco Art Association brought him instant success and national recognition. Art critic Junius Cravens was effusive:

"The young Chinese artist is showing twenty of the freshest, most satisfying, watercolors that have been seen hereabouts in many a day . . . landscapes and San Francisco street scenes, in which human figures appear incidentally, predominate in Kingman's exhibition. He handles his color fluently, in broad telling masses.  He is never finicky.  He is completely sincere and never superficial.  Here is a real watercolor painter."

Reviewing the Second Annual Exhibition of Watercolors, Pastels and Tempera on Paper, sponsored by the San Francisco Art Association in 1937, art critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote:

"Dong Kingman is bold, free and joyous as always. He paints with soaked light. He is San Francisco's A No. 1 watercolorist at the present moment."

Frankenstein saw Kingman's early landscapes as "Mysterious and somber - more Chinese," but as the artist matured and focused on the city scene, there appeared a more "dramatic, excited and dynamic tone," easily identified with twentieth century urban living. Kingman's bold paintings of the urban scene, which was to become his main subject, were observed by writers and critics as a synthesis of his Oriental heritage and his fascination with Occidental modernism. 

Defining a personal style, however, seemed never to concern the artist. "I am Oriental when I paint trees and landscapes, but Occidental when I paint buildings, ships or three-dimensional subjects with sunlight and shadow." The artist characterized his style as merely, "my way of painting."

Beginning in 1936, Kingman was a participating artist in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created by the federal government to help support the arts.  In the next five years he painted nearly five hundred works for the relief program which not only helped artists financially, but also made America aware of its own art.  In 1941 Kingman earned the first of two, back to back, Guggenheim Fellowships which allowed him to travel.  During World War II he joined the army and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Service at Camp Beal, California and then Washington, D.C.  The nature of his duties allowed him to continue his career. After the war Kingman settled on the East Coast, in Brooklyn, New York, assuming teaching positions at Columbia University and Hunter College in 1946 for the next ten years.

In 1954 Kingman became a cultural ambassador for the United States in an international lecture tour for the Department of State.  He was also a founding member of the Famous Artists Painting School of Westport, Connecticut, which taught art by correspondence. Kingman became involved in the film industry during the 1950's and 60's where he served as technical advisor.  In addition, he created brilliant main title backgrounds for such films as "55 Days in Peking" and "Flower Drum Song."  Over three hundred of his film-related works are permanently housed at the Center for Motion Picture Study at the Motion Picture Academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California.

In 1981, Mainland China's Ministry of Culture hosted a critically acclaimed exhibition of Kingman's paintings in Beijing, attended by 100,000 people.  It was the first American one-man show since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China.

In the 90's, Kingman's paintings were the subject of two major exhibitions in Taiwan: the Taipei Modern Art Museum in 1995 and the Taichung Provincial Museum in 1999.

Among his many awards and honors over seven decades, The American Watercolor Society awarded him its highest honor, the Dolphin Award, for outstanding contributions to art.

From 1940 to present, Kingman's exhibitions, throughout the United States, have been almost yearly events and received by the public and press with laudits and critical success.

Biography from the Archives of askART

These Notes represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development.

Born in Oakland, CA on March 31, 1911. When Kingman was five, his family moved to Hong Kong where he grew up and attended Lingnan Grammar School. The headmaster of the school, Szetu Wei, had studied painting in Paris and recognized his budding artistic talent. For several years he trained young Kingman in both oriental and occidental approaches to painting. Returning to San Francisco in 1929, Kingman became active in the local art scene and began painting scenes of the city. His first solo show at the San Francisco Art Center in 1936 brought immediate recognition. During the 1930s he spent five years working on commissions for the Federal Public Works of Art Project. During WWII he created maps and charts for the O.S.S. After the war Kingman settled in NYC and taught at Columbia University. His paintings were used as backdrops for the movie "Flower Drum Song" and his watercolors were reproduced in Life and on the covers of Fortune and Holiday magazines. Kingman died in NYC on May 12, 2000. Member: American WC Society; NA (1951). Exh: SFMA Inaugural, 1935; Vallejo Public Library, 1935; Calif. WC Society, 1935-44; San Francisco Art Association, 1936 (1st prize); GGIE, 1939; San Diego FA Gallery, 1943; De Young Museum, 1945 (solo); County Fair (LA), 1949; Philadelphia WC Club, 1950 (medal); NAD, 1975 (gold medal). In: MM; SFMA; Boston Museum; Delaware Museum; Whitney Museum (NYC); MOMA; CHS; Brooklyn Museum; De Young Museum; San Diego Museum; Mills College (Oakland); AIC; NAD; Butler Art Inst. (Columbus, OH); Wilmington (DE) Society of FA; Toledo (OH) Museum; Dartmouth College; U.S. State Dept; Addison Gallery (Andover, MA); Evansville Museum.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; Who's Who in American Art 1940-70; California Art Research, 20 volumes; The Watercolors of Dong Kingman by Alan Gruskin; SF Chronicle, 5-16-2000 (obituary).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Kingsley Art Auction
Dong King-Man was a Chinese-American artist and one of America's leading watercolor masters.  He began his formal education after returning back to China with his family at the age of 5; his name was given then by his instructor which literally means "scenery" and "composition" in Cantonese as he aspired to be an artist.  He would later combine the two names into Kingman, placing his family name first in accordance with Chinese naming conventions, creating the name Dong Kingman. 

Kingman returned to the United States in his late teens.  In 1929 he attended the Fox Morgan Art School while holding down a variety of jobs.  It was at this time that he chose to concentrate on watercolor painting.  His critical breakthrough occurred in 1936, when he gained a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Art Association which brought him national recognition and success.  He has won widespread critical acclaim; in 1987, the American Watercolor Society awarded him Dolphin Medal Award.  His works are included in over 50 public and private collections worldwide, including Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum; deYoung Museum and Art Institute, Chicago.

Besides, Kingman also worked as an illustrator in the film industry, designing backgrounds for many major motion pictures.  Over 300 of his film-related works are permanently housed at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California. 

Biography from California Watercolor
Dong Kingman, N.A. (1911-2000) Born: Oakland, CA; Studied: Ling Nan School (Hong Kong); Member; National Academy of Design, American Watercolor Society, California Water Color Society. Dong Kingman was born in California of Chinese parents. While still a child, he returned with them to China.  There, Kingman received art instruction from traditional Chinese watercolorists and Size-To-Wai, a Paris-educated artist who was very knowledgeable about modern art trends. In 1929, Kingman moved back to San Francisco and started producing watercolor paintings depicting Bay Area cityscape subjects.

During the Depression, Kingman did watercolors for the P.W.A. Art Relief project in San Francisco and his works were included in the Frontiers of American Art show. By the mid-1930s, when California watercolors were beginning to receive national attention, Kingman was recognized as one of the Bay Area's finest watercolorists. The San Francisco Museum of Art acquired a number of his works and exhibited them in numerous watercolor shows.

In 1942, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship which enabled him to travel around the United States painting watercolors of American scene subjects. When Kingman got to New York City, he found it to his liking and produced a number of works depicting cityscape subjects. He went into the service during World War II and ended up producing art for the war effort in Washington, D.C. After the war, he decided to live in New York City and spend less time in San Francisco.

Kingman's early works featured loose washes, often done using a wet-into-wet technique, with some dry brush calligraphy for definition. His post war works became increasingly complex in subject matter and usually had a geometric, abstractionist look. Between 1945 and 1965, he painted a large number of outstanding cityscape watercolors of New York City and San Francisco. The best of these woks have exceptional compositions, interesting subject matter and an exciting sense of drama. They are among the finest examples of American watercolor produced during this era.

In addition to painting and exhibiting fine art, his works have been reproduced as covers for Fortune and as article illustrations inside the magazine. Life, Time, Westways and numerous other magazines also reproduced his works. As an art instructor, he has taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University, Hunter College, Famous Artists School, and has been the featured teacher at dozens of significant watercolor workshops throughout the world.

Kingman's watercolors are in major museums throughout America and the Orient. There have been three books written about his life and work, and a film documenting his approach to watercolor painting was released in 1954.

Biographical information:
Interview with Dong Kingman, 1994.
The Watercolors of Dong Kingman.

Biography courtesy of California Watercolors 1850-1970,
©2002 Hillcrest Press, Inc.

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About  Dong Kingman

Born:  1911 - Oakland, California
Died:   2000 - Manhattan, New York
Known for:  watercolor modernist urban views-harbors, genre painting