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 Fengmian Lin  (1900 - 1991)

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Lived/Active: China/Germany/United Kingdom      Known for: modernist figure, landscape and genre paintings, drawings, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Lin Fengmian, originally named Lin Fengming, was a Chinese painter and is considered a pioneer of modern Chinese painting for blending Chinese and Western painting styles.  He was also an important innovator in the area of Chinese art education.

Born in Mei County, Guangdong, like many of his peers, Lin partipicated in the "Diligent Work and Economical Study", Jinggong Jianxue program, a work-study program in China during that time.  Similar to his compatriot Xu Beihong, Lin spent the early years of his career in Europe, moving to France in 1920 and studying painting in France.

In 1923, he later moved to Berlin, Germany.  In 1925 he returned to China, where he became the principal of the Beiping State Vocational Art School.  In 1928, with encouragement from Cai Yuanpei, he helped found the antecedent of the China Academy of Art, becoming its first principal.

Lin's works and life were met with great tragedy.  While many of his early works were destroyed by Japanese soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War, many of his later works were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  After being heavily criticized and denounced by the Gang of Four, Lin personally destroyed his own works by soaking and then flushing his works down the toilet; however, he still ended up being imprisoned for over four years.

In 1977, he was finally allowed to leave, on the assumption he would reunite with his family in Brazil.  He instead he headed for Hong Kong, where he remained until his death in 1991. After his release, Lin slowly began to recreate many of his previously destroyed works.


Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Lin Fengmian was a 20th century Chinese modern artist who studied mainly in France and was known for seamlessly blending traits of Western and Eastern styles in both his oil and ink paintings. Fengmian's role and cutting-edge ideas in the development of education in China are equally, if not more significant parts of his legacy. Fengmian's work was widely exhibited in China throughout his late career, including at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

The artist's works were not largely popular at first and were even considered "strange" due to his unconventional techniques and Western influences. Unfortunately, both the artistic and personal sides of Fengmian's life were marred with struggles, torture, sadness, violence, self-sacrifice, and loss. Japanese soldiers not only destroyed his home during the Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s, but also the majority of his early works. Moreover, while Fengmian was imprisoned and tortured for over four years during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, most of his later works were also destroyed. His ties to and love of France, where he received his art education, were responsible for his political troubles during the purges of the Cultural Revolution. He was criticized and his name smeared for being an "intellectual" and artist. This history has made Fengmian's more recent works highly valued and sought-after, not only for their rarity, but also for their emotional and cultural implications.

Fengmian was born the son of a painter in Mei County, Guangdong, China in 1900. Considered a child prodigy for his mature and advanced artistic abilities, he sold his first painting, Pine and Crane, to a merchant at age nine. As a youth in China, he participated in a work-study program called the "Diligent Work and Economical Study" and learned traditional Chinese painting techniques. He moved to France at age 18 to study painting at the Dijon Art College and the Ècole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. At the young age of 22, one of his paintings was displayed at the noteworthy Salon d'Automne in Paris, and the following year his Chinese ink paintings were shown at the same venue and 42 of his paintings were hung at an exhibition of Chinese ancient and modern art in Strasbourg, France.

While in Europe, Fengmian was influenced by Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Cubism, which he fused with his own Chinese style. Fengmian also made a brief side trip to Berlin, Germany in 1925. In 1926 he was encouraged to return to China by Cai Yuanpei, a Chinese educator who worked to "westernize" the Chinese educational system to be more like France, to serve as Director and Professor of the National Beijing Fine Art School. At age 28, Fengmian became one of the founding members and president of the Hangzhou National Academy of Art (formerly known as Hangzhou National College of Art, and now the China Academy of Art), which allowed him to significantly influence and teach the next generation of modern Chinese artists.

After retirement from teaching in 1952, Fengmian moved to Shanghai and painted full-time in an attempt to recreate many of his lost or destroyed earlier works. While in Shanghai, he became interested in Chinese opera and the singers became subjects of his works. His French wife and daughter emigrated to Brazil in 1956 to escape persecution. In 1977, after many years of waiting, the Chinese government granted him permission to travel to Brazil to see his family, however Fengmian instead moved to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, a chance meeting with two of China's most distinguished collectors of modern art at a dinner party, a married couple named George and Mary Bloch, would change his life as he knew it. The Blochs' immediate purchase?the night of the dinner party?of a number of Fengmian's paintings established the beginning of a productive and lasting relationship.

Considering that Fengmian had arrived in Hong Kong with very little money, one hundred sheets of rice paper, and a few paintings, the Blochs' played a large role in elevating the artist's career and providing the financial boost to help him recover from his struggles while in China. During the late 1970s to mid-1980s, Fengmian was able to paint peacefully without much worry in regards to further governmental or political interference, and hence art historians consider his paintings from these years to be very important. "He kept a very low profile and it was a very peaceful and quiet life. He enjoyed the freedom to do what he wanted," said Raymond Tang Man-leung, an organizer of one of Fengmian's exhibitions in Hong Kong.

Fengmian lived modestly in Hong Kong until his death in 1991, spending most of his days painting in his home. He occasionally visited his family who was living in Brazil, however he was not able to acclimate to the South-American lifestyle. Hong Kong was a better fit, as he preferred to be closer to his Chinese homeland.

Subjects of Fengmian's oil and ink paintings include landscapes, Perking Opera figures, nudes, human figures, portraits, birds, nature scenes, fishing villages, and inanimate objects.  Artworks especially noted for their mixed Eastern and Western influences and techniques are Autumn Lake, which uses Chinese rice paper and a Western layering technique of thick pigment, and Lady Holding a Lotus, which is a soft, feminine portrait two-fold influenced by the famous ceramics of the Song dynasty and Western artists like Matisse and Modigliani.

A partial list of his public collections is as follows:

China Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing, China)
Hong Kong Museum of Art (Hong Kong)

A partial list of his solo exhibitions is as follows:

1926 Beijing Institute (Beijing, China)
1937 University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
1961 Shanghai Art Museum (Shanghai, China)
Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing, China)
1964 City Hall (Hong Kong)
1979 Shanghai Artists' Association (Shanghai, China)
1989 "Retrospective" - National Museum of History (Taipei, Taiwan)
China National Art Museum (Beijing, China)
1999 "Lin Fengmian 100 Years Retrospective Exhibition" Lin & Lin Gallery (Taipei,
2005 "Exhibition of the Existent Art Works of Lin Fengmian" Soka Art Center
(Beijing, China)
2007 "A Pioneer of Modern Chinese Painting?The Art of Lin Fengmian" Hong
Kong Museum of Art (Hong Kong)

Kristin Guess for Tobin Reese Fine Art

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