Never Give Up: Paying Tribute to the Frontline Healthcare Professionals – Art Exhibition from the Liu Haisu Art Museum’s Collection

We turn to the arts to get through difficult times, so many art galleries and museums in China have curated online exhibitions for the public during the COVID-19 outbreak. We believe our long-lasting art and culture will guide us in fighting this epidemic. The artworks, selected from the collection of the Liu Haisu Art Museum, aim to pay tribute to healthcare professionals for their dedication and great efforts exerted to curb the spread of COVID-19.

CAO Jifeng, Never Give Up, 4.2 × 4.2 × 5 cm, 2008
Cao Jifeng is a young artist born in the 1980s. This piece of seal-cutting was carved in seal script. It consists of four columns of characters. The first column from the right says “never give up”, an expression of encouragement from the artist. The rest of the columns say: “In most circumstance we fail because we are in fear of those difficulties.” There are twenty-four characters in total. It is short but meaningful. The work expresses that when we experience hardship in life, we must not be discouraged, we have to march onward and never give up.
The characters are arranged from right to left. The title is in one vertical line and is followed by the explanation. The carving skill used is excellent. When taking a close look at these lines, they are smooth and in a simple style. Apart from the arrangement of the words, the artist decorated the top of the work with the shape of mountain peaks.

DING Yunpeng, 《兰芝图》, 126 x 56 cm,  Ming Dynasty
Ding Yunpeng was an outstanding painter in the late Ming dynasty. He was good at figure and shanshui painting, especially drawing Buddha. Zhou Lianggong, a well-known art collector, praised him: “Ding and Wu Wenzhong are the best Buddha painters.” Like Dong Qichang, he often wrote inscriptions on his paintings as an act of appreciation. They maintained a lifelong friendship. In this artwork, we can see Dong’s long inscriptions.
The way of drawing is loose and elegant. From the front view of the painting, there is a little ganoderma growing on the stone. When our eyes move upwards, we can see cluttered orchid bushes. The orchid is regarded as “one of the Four Gentlemen” by Chinese literati in different dynasties. The orchid, with a faint, delicate fragrance, grows in a hidden and secluded place. Thus, it can embody the characteristics of self-containment, reservation, simplicity, solitude and unpretentiousness. Dong’s inscription matches the orchid’s characteristics well.

WEN Zhengming, The Lucky Image, 189,1 x 94 cm, 1549
Wen Zhengming was a leading painter, calligrapher and scholar in Ming dynasty. He was the unrivaled leader of the Wu School for much of its heyday during the first sixty years of the sixteenth century. Wen was regarded as one of the Four Masters of Ming painting, together with Shen Zhou, Tang Yin and Qiu Ying. In this painting, there was only one simple inscription in the top right corner, written as “made by Zhengming in the spring of February 1549”. In the center of this painting, a huge amount of water comes from a spring. The proportion of this setting is well organized. From the painting, the viewer can see the water from its origin, the lean rocks by the dam, the bright-red ganoderma and the orchid blossoming under a green pine tree. The whole picture gives a feeling of quiet and elegant charm. Based on the inscription, this painting probably was made by the artist for himself on his eightieth birthday.

Wang Chengpei, Pigeon, 106 x 65,2 cm, Qing Dynasty
Wang Chengpei was a minister in Qing dynasty. The inscription of the painting indicates it was made for the court. Therefore, the drawing is delicate and bright colors were used. This suited the taste of the court at that time. In the picture, there are Taihu stones, with daisy bushes in the back. A pigeon is sitting on the stones near a maple branch. The pigeon leans forward to look at another pigeon on the ground. The pigeons in the painting seem relatively chubby. The painting method used is quite different from traditional techniques, but this style of art expression was common among the court painters of that time.

Zheng Xie, Bamboo, 135,1 x 30 cm, Qing Dynasty
Zheng Xie (1693-1765), courtesy name Kerou, used Banqiao as his pseudonym. He was one of the most important artists of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou. In his artistic career, he only painted three subjects: orchid, bamboo and rock. He was not only good at painting, he was also a skilled poet and calligrapher. He was regarded as the leading literati painter in the Qing dynasty. This is a brush-and-ink painting that depicts bamboo in its different growing stages. He applied thick ink to the matured leaves and light color to the tender ones, so it has different layers of colors. His works combine imaginative and realistic art practices. Therefore, Zheng’s painting and calligraphy are of a high artistic value.

Chen Hengke, Banana Tree, 86 x 39,5 cm, 20th century
Chen Hengke (1876-1923), courtesy name Shizeng, art name Kuaitang, was a Chinese painter, critic and educator in early twentieth-century China. This painting depicts a plantain tree. The artist only used a few strokes, yet the lines are thick and bold. His brushwork is strong, yet extremely thin, made forceful through the use of more outline than textural strokes.

Shen Xin,《兰芝图》, 24,5 x 54 cm, unknown date
The orchid, rock and ganoderma are classic themes for Chinese painters. They represent good fortune and elegance. The artist, Shen Xin, used the mogu method to depict the orchids. Mogu is a painting technique that is contrary to gongbi: it does not trace contours. The artist skillfully depicted the orchid leaves, which are light yellow and green. The artist drew the outline of Taihu stones by using a light color. The different movement of the paint brushes illustrates the structure of the stones. The ganoderma was painted with freehand brushwork, reflecting simplicity. The artist possessed a high level of artistic expression and technique.

Liu Haisu, Red Plum Blossom, 104 x 53,5 cm, 1948
One of the most beloved flowers in China, the plum blossom has been frequently depicted in Chinese painting and poetry for centuries. The Chinese cherish these blossoms, as they bloom most vibrantly amidst the winter snow, after most other plants have shed their leaves and before other flowers appear. They are seen as an example of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Liu Haisu, Water Lilies, 118 x 67,5 cm, 1972
Liu Haisu applied the splash-ink technique in this painting. Apart from that, he used traditional brushwork to depict the water lilies. The stems of the water lilies were painted thickly, which has a strong visual impact. There are a few branches of water lilies standing alone on the right. The artist applied lighter color to distinguish them from the ones on the left, which are very heavy and strong in colors.
At the time of completing this artwork, Liu had been experiencing hardship in life, but he never gave up on artistic creation. In particular, this was one of the most important periods for his art endeavor and exploration. The water lily is a spiritual emblem for many cultures. The lily may represent a spiritual or personal blossoming after the journey through the ”mud” of life. It is believed that the painting reflects the artist’s self.

Liu Haisu, Bamboo and Rock, 134 x 67 cm, 1982
Liu Haisu made this artwork in the Zhongshan Spring. Based on the inscription, it seems that Liu painted the subjects in the spur of the moment. The symbolism of bamboo and rock is very ancient in Chinese culture and many artists were very fond of depicting them. Bamboo is admired for its resilience and beautiful green color, while the rock symbolizes solidity and endurance.

The Liu Haisu Art Museum uses art to express a deep sense of gratitude to the people who are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. We wish they are safe and well!