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Remembering art masters of Suzhou

SUZHOU Fine Arts Institute nurtured modern Chinese oil painting and is associated with many great names, but these days it is largely forgotten, a name from the past.

An exhibition underway at 800 Art Space marks the institute's 86th anniversary and features big names such as Yan Wenliang, Zhu Shijie and Hu Cuizhong.

Those masters were among the founders of the institute that became part of regional academies in 1952.

The show includes about 80 canvases featuring impressionistic landscapes infused with an Oriental poetic sense.

"Today the Suzhou Fine Arts Institute lingers only as a memory for old people," laments Li Jing, spokesperson for the 800 Art Space.

"But with this show we wanted to recognize its critical status in Chinese modern history."

Yang, Zhu, Hu and others were the earliest modern oil painters, says Li. "They opened the institute to nurture a crop of young artists who could combine both the Western and Eastern techniques."

Yan (1893-1988) was a major contributor to art eduction. He was born in Suzhou and went to France for further studies in 1928 when he was influenced by Western art concepts and skills.

While in Europe he purchased nearly 460 plaster copies of Renaissance sculpture masterpieces as well as 4,000 art picture albums and books.

The institute also admitted female students, "a courageous practice at that time," says Li.

On display are some of the earliest Chinese oil paintings that were deeply influenced by the Barbizon school, the beginning of the switch from Romanticism to Realism in Europe.

Like the Barbizon artists, Yan and his peers were moved by natural countryside scenes. Yan even said: "Landscape artists are the 'favored children' of nature."

In a national reorganization in 1952, the Suzhou Fine Arts Institute was subsumed by the Chinese Fine Arts Academy, Shanghai Fine Arts Academy and Nanjing Fine Arts Academy that continue its work.

Date: through July 5, 10am-4pm

Address: Rm 117, 800 Guoshun Rd E.

Tel: 6148-3428


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