Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Xu Beihong’s Denver Connections

The Denver Art Museum is the only world-wide destination for Xu Beihong: Pioneer of Modern Chinese Painting, on view through January 29. One of the first Chinese artists to study in Europe, Xu advocated for the integration of Western techniques with traditional styles in order to modernize Chinese painting. You can view a wide selection of his artwork from early landscape paintings and drawings, created during his studies in Europe, to portraits of political leaders including Mao Zedong and Mahatma Gandhi and his iconic horse paintings. Often called the father of modern Chinese painting, Xu has a unique connection to our fair city.

The sketch pictured above features Ambassador Sié Chéou- Kang, one of Xu’s best friends and father of museum trustee John Sie. Sié Chéou- Kang was a diplomat in Paris and met Xu when he was studying in the city of lights. The two became fast friends. After returning to China from Europe in the 1920s, Sié Chéou-Kang was appointed Dean of the School of Literature at National Central University. Xu taught at the same university in 1929 and sketched his friend, capturing a moment of concern on Sié’s face. Xu was also working on his oil painting Tian Heng and His Five Hundred Warriors, pictured below, at this time and Sié Chéou-Kang’s face from this sketch was incorporated into the composition of the gathered crowd. Can you spot his face on the left side of the painting? Xu also made the warrior in the gold robe after his own likeness. The two remained friends for the rest of their lives. Because of this friendship between families, the museum was able to connect with the Xu Beihong Memorial Museum in Beijing, the house for the majority of Xu's artwork. Stop by Xu Beihong: Pioneer of Modern Painting to learn about the story behind more of these intricate paintings.

Image Credits: Xu Beihong, Tian Heng and His Five Hundred Warriors, 1928-1930. The Xu Beihong Memorial Museum. Xu Beihong, Portrait, 1929. The Xu Beihong Memorial Museum.

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This originally was published as a blog post on the DAM's Collective website on December 21, 2011.

Ashley Pritchard is communications and media relations manager at the Denver Art Museum. Ashley has been at the DAM since 2008 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. She gets to peruse the galleries some mornings around 4 am for TV segments and loves having a little quiet time with the art.