Friendship in Art

Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong

Claire Roberts
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Friendship in Art
    Book Description:

    This book documents in letters, photos, and paintings a special friendship between two highly creative individuals who helped shape Chinese culture in the twentieth century — the revered traditional painter Huang Binhong (1865–1955) and the young, cosmopolitan critic and translator Fou Lei (1908–66). As one of China's oldest and most distinguished artists in the 1940s and 1950s, Huang Binhong was committed to artistic continuity and reinvigoration of brush-and-ink painting. Fou Lei was a child of the New Culture Movement which repudiated many literati traditions, but reached out to Huang Binhong to discuss the possibilities for contemporary Chinese art amid the tides of war and Communist dictates of socialist realism as the guiding priority for cultural workers. Both were cultural mediators and translators of ideas and cultural expressions. Both had deep appreciation of the common origins of calligraphy and painting, rendering complex feelings with brush and ink. Their intimate artistic conversations over more than a decade depict their alienation and uncertainty amid China's turbulent cultural politics.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-576-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. A Note on Romanization and Translation
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book charts a friendship between two creative individuals who played important and yet very different roles in the evolution of Chinese culture in the twentieth century. In 1943, Fou Lei, a young Shanghainese intellectual, wrote to the 80-year-old artist Huang Binhong, a man more than 40 years his senior. Huang Binhong, also from the south, was then living in Japanese-occupied Beiping (the name for Beijing from 1928 to 1949), isolated in the unfamiliar, politically oppressive city. While the paths of the two men had crossed years earlier in Shanghai, Fou Lei’s letter marks the beginning of an intense artistic...

  7. 1 Fou Lei: Shanghai and Paris
    (pp. 11-26)

    Prior to the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), Fou Lei was best known in China as one of the greatest translators of French literature. In the minds of readers, his name was synonymous with Romain Rolland and Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), whose novels he rendered into vivid Chinese. Today, he is better known for the letters he wrote to his sons, Fou Ts’ong (b.1934) and Fou Min (b.1937), between 1954 and 1966 and published posthumously as Fou Lei’s Family Letters. Fou Ts’ong, the eldest son and a gifted pianist, travelled to Poland in 1954 to further his musical career. Fou...

  8. 2 On Art: Fou Lei’s Early Writings
    (pp. 27-48)

    Writer and intellectual Qian Zhongshu (1910–98), who studied French literature in Paris in the late 1930s, remembers that on his calling card his old friend Fou Lei described himself as Critique d’Art.¹ In Paris, Fou Lei had developed his affinity with art and on his return to Shanghai he energetically took up this new role. In an impassioned essay on his friend Liu Haisu, written soon after his homecoming, Fou Lei comments that when Liu read the opening paragraph of Rilke’s book on the French sculptor Auguste Rodin he gave a deep sigh. ‘Rodin’, Rilke writes ‘was solitary before...

  9. 3 Huang Binhong and Fou Lei
    (pp. 49-74)

    Fou Lei and Huang Binhong were prolific correspondents and communicated with many different people. Of the letters published in Fou Lei’s collected writings in 2006, with the exception of family (more than 200), by far the greatest number are addressed to Huang Binhong (101)—many more than to his close friends and contemporaries such as Liu Kang (22) or Stephen C. Soong (Song Qi, 12). In contrast, 21 letters to Fou Lei were published in Huang Binhong’s collected writings in 1999—relatively fewer than those he wrote to his close friends and contemporaries, notably Xu Chengyao (66) and Chen Zhu...

  10. 4 Huang Binhong’s First Solo Show Curated by Fou Lei
    (pp. 75-100)

    More than 50 years after Huang Binhong’s death, are we any closer to appreciating his artistic world and historical significance?

    Huang Binhong’s first solo exhibition was held more than 60 years ago in Shanghai, in 1943. It was organized by friends and students to honour his eightieth birthday. Huang had been offered a commemorative exhibition by Japanese authorities in Beiping but declined. The Shanghai exhibition, developed by Fou Lei with the assistance of Gu Fei and her husband Qiu Zhuchang (1906–90), was held in his absence, in solidarity with the artist who was living in Japanese-occupied Beiping. It featured...

  11. 5 Artistic Conversations
    (pp. 101-134)

    Of the 200 paintings included in Huang Binhong’s eightieth birthday exhibition, 20 were selected by Fou Lei for reproduction in the accompanying catalogue. He must have regarded them as fine examples of Huang’s art, and it is not surprising that some found their way into his personal collection. One of these paintings is an evocation of lines from a poem by Su Dongpo depicting the Wanghailou Pagoda on Fenghuang Mountain in Hangzhou:

    Where green hills break, story on story of tower;

    houses on the other bank—if you called, I think they’d answer!

    Autumn wind on the river, by evening...

  12. 6 Politics and Culture: China in the 1950s
    (pp. 135-158)

    While some of his friends and associates would flee to Taiwan and Hong Kong as a result of the Communist victory, Huang Binhong chose to remain in China. After a short stay in Shanghai, he moved to Hangzhou where he was appointed professor at the National Art College. The next year, however, he created a series of small paintings of Kowloon and the islands of Hong Kong, recalling his travels there in 1928 and 1935. Among them are album leaves created for his patron-collector friend Wong Kui-So (Huang Jusu, 1897–1986) and other supporters in Hong Kong. Using a worn-out...

  13. 7 Huang Binhong: The Artistic Legacy
    (pp. 159-194)

    Early in 1955, Fou Lei was part-way through the translation of Balzac’s novel Ursule Mirouët when he heard that Huang Binhong was gravely ill. He immediately wrote to Huang’s wife, Song Ruoying, to express his concern, but the letter arrived too late. After receiving news of Huang’s death, Fou wrote again to Song Ruoying expressing his great sorrow at not having seen Huang during his illness and offering sincere condolences. (Both letters are translated in full in the pages that follow.)

    Fou’s intense and reclusive involvement in his own work had made it difficult for him to travel to Hangzhou....

  14. 8 Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong
    (pp. 195-202)

    Soon after his return from Paris in 1931, Fou Lei saw some of Huang’s brush-and-ink landscapes and never forgot them. He had viewed many Chinese and Western works, but Huang’s art was fresh and exciting to him. While he admitted that his love affair with Chinese painting began after his study of Western art, he did not admire brush-and-ink painting out of a renewed interest in Chinese art based on patriotism or nationalistic pride. Fou Lei was proud to be Chinese. He chose to return to Shanghai from Paris in 1931 and from Hong Kong in 1949. But when it...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 203-212)
  16. Glossary of Chinese Names and Terms
    (pp. 213-218)
  17. References
    (pp. 219-226)
  18. Index
    (pp. 227-232)