Qi Baishi in 1946, photograph by Lang Jingshan
January 1, 1864|
|Died||September 16, 1957
Qi Baishi on a Soviet Union stamp
Qi Baishi (January 1, 1864 – September 16, 1957) was an influential Chinese painter.
Born to a peasant family from Xiangtan, Hunan, Qi became a carpenter at 14, and learned to paint by himself. After he turned 40, he traveled, visiting various scenic spots in China. After 1917 he settled in Beijing.
He is perhaps the most noted for the whimsical, often playful style of his watercolor works.
His pseudonyms include Qí Huáng (齊璜) and Qí Wèiqīng (齐渭清). The subjects of his paintings include almost everything, commonly animals, scenery, figures, toys, vegetables, and so on. He theorized that "paintings must be something between likeness and unlikeness, much like today's vulgarians, but not like to cheat popular people". In his later years, many of his works depict mice, shrimp or birds.
He was also good at seal carving and called himself "the rich man of three hundred stone seals" (三百石印富翁).
In 1953 he was elected president of the China Artists Association. He died in Beijing in 1957.
He was born in Xiangtan Hunan and grew up in a family of low-income background. He lived with his parents, grandparents, and eight younger sisters and brothers. Qi Baishi was schooled for less than a year due to illness. However, he was too weak do much of the work and this was when he became a carpenter. While Qi Baishi was growing up, he came upon a Chinese manual of painting, this was what sparked his interest in art and painting animals, insects and other types. In his painting, depict things that people have seen however, he didn’t start following this motto until much later in his life. He first studied the "Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden" (芥子園畫傳) and used performers, mainly opera, for models to practice his work. After using opera performers as models Qi Baishi turned to anyone he knew to pose for him.
Training and education
“Qi Baishi started receiving artistic training from Hu Qinyuan which consisted of fundamentals in gongbi mode, which features fine brushwork and meticulous detail” (Jung Ying Tsao p. 199). He was taught that every aspect of painting mattered, from the subject matter to the way the paint was applied to the paper. His landscape paintings came as a result of his next mentor Tan Pu. Because of his training, he then realized that he could pursue art as his full-time career instead of just dreaming to become a professional artist (Jung Ying Tsao p. 199-201).
Baishi was popular for his variety of works ranging from plant to animal life; because of his natural style, collectors both “artistic and political” purchased his work. According to the article, Qi Baishi [Ch’i Pai-shih; zi Huang; hao Baishi Laoren, Baishi Shanqeng]: "Baishi’s works were based on his life and his character. After the fall of the Qing dynasty Qi Baishi was known for not letting all the political issues affect his work and keeping his own values and ideas through the harsh times. According to Confucian standards, starting off as nothing and creating a name for yourself, as Baishi did, was very honorable (Xiangtan p. 1).
Qi Baishi did not have any formal education or training in the field of art; however, he managed to master many different techniques including calligraphy and seal-carving. After establishing himself in Hunan as a painter and artist, it wasn’t until his forties that he began traveling and looking for more inspiration. Baishi came upon the Shanghai School, which was very popular at the time, and met Wu Changshuo who then became another mentor to him and inspired a lot of Baishi’s works. Another influence of Baishi didn’t come until about fifteen years later who was Chen Shizeng who he became close to when he was living in Beijing. Baishi was becoming more and more well-known and sought after. During World War II, many traditional art works and culture were no longer considered valuable and were thus destroyed. But Baishi was still respected and was “elected to the National People’s Congress and made honorary Chairman of the National Artist’s’ Association, he represented a continuing commitment to traditional cultural values in revolutionary China” (Xiangtan, p. 1). He died at age 93.
After all of his travels, Baishi built a house and settled down. He began reading and writing poetry and painting some of the mountains he saw while traveling. These paintings became a series of fifty landscape pictures known as “Chieh-shan t’u-chuan.” Later, poems and postscripts by artists that Baishi knew were printed onto the paintings (Boorman & Howard p. 302-304). One of Baishi’s earlier series of works called “The Carp” was recognized and praised for its simple style - it contained no excess of decorations or writings. His noticeable talent with wood-carving was also highly praised, as was his ability to express his personal influence through his work. It wasn’t until his mid-fifties that Baishi was considered a mature painter. By then, his lines were sharper and his subject matter had changed from wildlife to botany. As said by Wang Chao-Wen, “he based his work on reality while experimenting ceaselessly in new ways of expression, to integrate truth and beauty, create something yet unimagined by other artists, and achieve his own unique style, on that should not be artificial” (p. 127).
Experiences and works
Wang Chao-Wen said that while Baishi was talking to a student in Peking, he saw an outline of a bird on a brick floor in muddy water. He goes on to say that not everyone would have seen the bird, but because Baishi was always concerned with finding new images to paint, he had a “special sensitivity” (p. 129). It was said that Baishi had something special about him because he was constantly thinking about painting and had such a strong drive and motivation to be a great artist. (Chao-Wen p. 90698)
Excerpts from Qi Baishi’s journal demonstrate the strong passion and conviction he had for his work. From the article “An Appreciation of Chi Pai-Shi’s Paintings,” (Baishi was previously known as Chi Pai-Shi) his journal entry reads as follows:
“When I cut seals I do not abide by the old rules, and so I am accused of unorthodoxy. But I pity this generation’s stupidity, for they do not seem to realize that the Chin and Han artists were human and so are we, and we may have our unique qualities too… Such classical artists as Ching-teng, Hsueh-ko and Ta-ti-tzu dared to make bold strokes in their paintings, for which I admire them tremendously. My one regret is that I was not born three hundred years ago, for then I could have asked to grind ink or hold the paper for those gentleman, and if they would not have me I should have starved outside their doors rather than move away. How wonderful that would have been! I suppose future generations will admire our present artists just as much as we admire these men of old. What a pity that I will not be there to see it!” (Wang Chao-Wen p. 130-131)
What is unique about Baishi is that his work shows no western influences, unlike most other artists at this time. Other artists praised Baishi for the “freshness and spontaneity that he brought to the familiar genres of birds and flowers, insects and grasses, hermit-scholars and landscapes” (Xiangtan, p. 2). Although Baishi wasn’t the first artist to focus on small things in nature, he was highly recognized for his thoughtful and lyrical approach in depicting these subjects.
Forgery and misattribution of Qi Baishi's work has become common in the contemporary art market. He is estimated to have produced between 8,000 and 15,000 distinct works throughout his life, of which 3,000 are in museums; however, since 1993, auction houses have attempted to sell over 18,000 distinct works attributed to him. One of his paintings, Eagle Standing on Pine Tree, was sold for 425.5 million yuan ($65.5 million) in 2011, becoming one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction. However, doubts over the painting's authenticity were later raised by the bidder.
In 1881 at age 18 Qi completed his apprenticeship and married his child bride Chen Chunjun (1874-1940) in Hunan hometown. The couple had five children, three sons: Qi Liangyuan (born 1889), Qi Liangfu (1894-1913) and Qi Liangkun (born 1902) and two daughters (unknown names).
In 1919 Chen Chunjun came to Beijing and obtained Hu Baozhu (1902 - 1944) as Qi's concubine. Since then Qi and Hu lived together in Beijing. The couple had 7 children together. Four sons: Qi Liangchi (born 1921), Qi Liangyi (born 1923), Qi Liangnian (1934-1938) and Qi Liangmo (born 1938, nowadays lives in Beijing) and 3 daughters: Qi Lianglian (born 1927), Qi Lianghuan (born 1928) and Qi Liangzhi (1931-2010). 
There were/are many painters of Qi's young generation:
Qi and Chen’s children:
- Qi Liangkun (also known Qi Ziru) and his son Qi Kelai.
Qi and Hu's children:
- Qi Liangchi, also his son Qi Zhanyi
- Qi Liangyi also his son Qi Bingyi
- Qi Liangmo, also his son Qi Jianxiong and his daughter Qi Huijuan
- Qi Liangzhi, also her son Xiong Zhichun and daughters Xiong Youyou and Qi Yuanyuan
Qi Liangkun, Qi Liangyi, Qi Liangchi, Qi Liangmo and Qi Liangzhi have kept the family tradition ongoing and are actively painting the style learned from Qi Baishi. Xiong Zhichun was taught by Liangmo and Liangzhi, later studied in art academy abroad to form his personal art style. 
- A Culture of Bidding: Forging an Art Market in China, at the New York Times; by David Barboza, Graham Bowley, Amanda Cox, and Jo Craven McGinty; published October 28, 2013; retrieved October 28, 2013
- Qi Baishi, Dead, Keeps Making Art at MuseumZero; published November 25, 2013; retrieved January 9, 2014
- Replicas flood China's auctions as art becomes a business, at Want China Times; published October 25, 2012; retrieved October 28, 2013
- China painting nets record $65 million at auction
- Xiong Zhichun Interview in Helsinki, Finland 2013
- Boorman, Howard L., and Richard C. Howard. "Ch'I Pai-Shih." Biographical Dictionary of Republician China I (1967): 302-304.
- Chao-Wen, Wang. "An Appreciation of Chi Pai-Shih's Paintings." 126-131.
- Tsao, Jung Ying. The Paintings of Xugu and Qi Baishi. 1st ed. Seattle and London: Far East Fine Arts Inc, 1993. 5-447.
- Xiangtan. "Qi Baishi [Ch'I Pai-Shi;Zi Huang; Hao Baishi Laoren, Baihi Shanweng]." Grove Art Online (2007): 1-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Qi_Baishi.|
- Qi Baishi and his paintings on China Online Museum
- Qi Baishi's artwork and bibliography
- About.com page on Qi Baishi
- Brief Biography of and Paintings by Qi Baishi
- Qi Baishi profile on Wikipaintings
- Straddling East and West: Lin Yutang, a modern literatus: the Lin Yutang family collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Qi Baishi (see table of contents)