Very few countries in the world have such a rich art history as China. Art was already produced here in the Stone Age over 10,000 years ago in the form of pottery and sculptures.
The First Dynasty of China is emerged around 2,100 B.C. and is traditionally believed to have been the Xia. Just about every Chinese Dynasty has an art history, each with its distinctive qualities.
What’s fascinating about art in China is that it’s considered to be a continuous process during this entire period.
This is unlike Western art, which collapsed after the fall of the Roman Empire, only to be revived during the Renaissance by Italian artists and subsequently by famous artists all across Europe.
Western art became readily available all across China in the 19th century. This has resulted in many Chinese artists earning their spot in the world of contemporary art.
So who are the most famous Chinese artists in history? Let’s take a closer look!
1. Gu Kaizhi
Gu Kaizhi (344-406 A.D.) is considered to be one of the most celebrated painters of ancient China. He first picked up his brushes in the city of Nanjing in 364 and became an officer in the ministry of defense just 2 years later.
He was a multi-talented man who ended up becoming the royal officer of the Emperor. He was a talented poet and calligrapher and an art theorist who wrote 3 books on the subject of painting. Many of his most famous works exist as copies of the original.
2. Shen Zhou
Shen Zhou (1427-1509) is also sometimes referred to as Qi’nan and was one of the most prominent Chinese artists during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Large parts of the famous Great Wall of China were constructed during this period.
He was the founder of the Wu School in Suzhou and his art was defined by the rich Chinese tradition of his predecessors. His most notable works consist of paintings of flowers and landscapes in the influential “Wu Style” that he developed.
3. Qi Baishi
Qi Baishi (1864-1957) was another renowned Chinese painter who was born into a poor family of farmers. He taught himself how to paint while living in the area of Xiangtan, Hunan, in south-central China. His most famous works consist of birds and flowers.
His greatest inspiration to pick up his brushes was a Chinese manual of painting called the “Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden.” He traveled quite a bit after becoming a master painter and eventually settled in Beijing where he lived for the rest of his life.
4. Huang Gongwang
Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) was born at the end of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and is considered to be one of the “Four Masters of the Yuan dynasty.” This was the dynasty that took over after the fall of the Song Dynasty, although their rule only lasted less than a century.
Gongwang developed his style of ink wash paintings and was known to against the academic conventions of his time. He is considered to be one of the most influential landscape artists of his time and influenced numerous artists of future generations.
5. Zeng Fanzhi
Zeng Fanzhi (born in 1964) is one of the most famous Chinese artists in modern times and is based in Beijing. He had a keen interest in drawing and painting as a child and developed his skills by producing large abstract paintings at a young age.
Fanzhi studied at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts between 1987 and 1991 and permanently settled in Beijing in the early 1990s. He was most influenced by the German Expressionist artists. He gradually developed his style, and although it was initially only popular with Western art enthusiasts, he is now considered to be a renowned artist in his home country as well.
6. Wu Guanzhong
Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) is one of the most influential Chinese artists in history. He is credited with being the founder of modern Chinese art and one of the greatest artists of his time. That’s quite a lot of recognition indeed.
His style is a remarkable mix of Western art and traditional Chinese art. He combined his influence from the Fauvism artists of the early 20th century with traditional Chinese calligraphy which resulted in fascinating works of art such as “Twin Shallows” (1981) and “Lion Grove Garden” (1983).
7. Liu Xiaodong
Liu Xiaodong (born in 1963) is another contemporary Chinese artist who was one of the leading figures of the Neo-Realism art movement that emerged in China in the 1990s. His works are influenced by the economic conditions in China.
Xiadong showed an interest in art from a very young age and started his studies at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, one of the most prestigious art academies in the country. He eventually earned a Master of Fine Arts in oil painting in 1995. His works can be admired in some of the biggest museums in the world.
8. Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei isn’t just one of the most renowned contemporary artists, he is also a famous activist. He combines his art career with investigating his own government’s human rights violations and corruption, an activity that once had him detained for 83 days.
The artist’s most famous works are sculptures, installations, and photographs in which he tries to express his political convictions. Many of these works are located in public places. After leaving China in 2015, he has lived in various European countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom. He currently resides in Portugal with his family.