Study Group Autumn 2016. The Influence of Western Art in China and the Impact of Chinese Art in the West

Cultural Exchange

The influence of Western Art in China and the impact of Chinese Art in the West

Date:      Tuesday mornings late September/early October until early December 2016. TBC

Time:      10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Venue:    Maritime Museum, Pier 8, Central, HK.

Cost:       HK$500.

European artistic styles first began to influence Chinese painting in the late 16th and early 17th centuries when European Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci and Giuseppe Castiglione first began to enter China and serve at the Imperial Court. Many of these missionaries brought engravings, illustrated books and paintings with them and it was through these visual materials that the Chinese were first introduced to Western linear perspective and the use of shading to model forms (chiaroscuro).

The Dutch East India Company fleet in the 18th century comprised more than 200 ships and although there main cargo was spice the number of pieces of porcelain exported to Europe from China was astronomical. One ship alone was reported in 1634 as having carried 219,027 pieces and between 1604 and 1657 more than 3 million pieces reached the Netherlands. More arrived throughout Europe as trade with China increased. This trade had an enormous impact and changed the course of ceramic history. Traditional stoneware fell out of favour in Europe and technically superior and aesthetically more versatile Chinese products were both greatly admired and widely copied. Low fired ceramics decorated in blue on a white ground were produced in Delft and, once Johann Gottfried Bittger “reinvented” porcelain in 1709, high temperature kilns were set up at Meissen and elsewhere.

However it was not just blue and white that fed this demand for Chinoisserie. Everyone who could afford it wanted “something” Chinese in their home and from the mid 16th to late 17th centuries that demand was avidly met by trading companies such as the Dutch VOC and the British East India Company.

In his published books of designs Thomas Chippendale gave prominence to a Chinese style which not only encompassed the furniture that he would create but also the interior design to complement it. In architecture Chinese Chippendale was the name given to railings and balustrades resembling the designs of the cabinetmaker in his Chinese style work.

The traditional English country garden was surpassed by parks and gardens in Chinese style containing imitation temples and pagodas such as that in Kew Gardens in London. Even clothing fashions adopted an Oriental look. Such was the fascination with what was regarded at that time as the mysterious and, for most Westerners, a newly discovered world in the distant East. When originals could not be purchased copies were made so as to satisfy the acquisitiveness of those inspired by the hitherto unknown culture.

 It was not, however, a one sided exchange. In the late 19th century the Manchu government sent students to the United States to study and learn from the West. France was recommended as the role model of modern civilisations by the Chinese government and a large number of Chinese painters went to Paris to widen their horizons and learn of post Impressionism art in Europe. Amongst their number were Lin Fengmian, Wu Guanzhong, Za Wou-ki and Pan Yuliang. It was Lin Fengmian who returned from Paris and established the 1st Chinese Academy of Art in Hangzhou teaching a new generation of artists before they too left for Europe to perfect their skills and pass on their knowledge.

In the 1950s until the late 1970s, Social Realism, the dominant artistic style in China at the time, drew attention to the conditions of the working class and the hardships of everyday life. The style was introduced into China by Konstantin Maksimov, a Soviet painter sent to China on an official exchange in 1955. His legacy not only had an impact upon students who studied with him but also on the Chinese art world as a whole.

The relationship of the Chinese artist Teng Baiye (1900-1980) and the American painter Mark Tobey (1890-1976) is yet another example of East meets West and the influence of one on the other.

Zhang Daqian established a friendship with Pablo Picasso and the two artists met in Cannes in 1956 when each exchanged examples of their own style of painting. The works of these two artists influenced by the other are now at auction the two most highly priced in the world.

In the Autumn term the Friends Study Group will explore this topic in depth.

To avoid duplication of effort you may like to know that presentations are already planned on Dunhuang wall paintings, the artistic exchanges between the French Louis XIV and the Kangxi emperor, Pan Yuliang, Walasse Ting and Chinese export wallpaper. However there are so many other examples not even mentioned above and we do hope you will join us for what seems set to be a fascinating journey of discovery.

For further information please contact Patrick Moss at