Transplantation of European Styles of Painting in China in the Early Twentieth Century

Christina Chu


When the Venetian traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324) brought tales of the Chinese Kingdom back to Italy in the fourteenth century, the Occident and the Orient remained two worlds far apart. The presentation of two European clocks by another Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) to the Wanli emperor (1573-1620) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1633) court on 24 January 1601 marked the beginning of the history of China’s interaction with the West. For the first time, the Chinese saw the meticulous and life-like religious paintings brought by the missionary from the West. The Emperor Qianlong’s (1736-95) fascination with Western art and artifacts led to the founding of an atelier in the Imperial court led by the Jesuit Castiglione (1688-1766) from Milan.

By the nineteenth century, European nations empowered by the success of the Industrial Revolution were resolved to open the Chinese market to the huge quantity of goods produced in their factories. When European diplomatic missions to China failed to secure the trading privileges they sought, military skirmishes ensued and ended in defeats and humiliating treaties for China.

In order to counter the Western powers, China embarked on the road to modernization and westernization. Chinese students were sent overseas to acquire knowledge in science, technology, and culture, and among them were some of the best Chinese artists. The first generation of Western painters in China went to Japan to learn Western painting because Japan was closer and the First World War was raging in Europe. When the war ended in 1919, Chinese students went to France to study the contemporary styles of Western painting. This paper studies the historical background of the beginning of Western painting in China and examines how Impressionism, among other Western European styles, affected Chinese artists of the early twentieth century.


art impressionism in China, Europe and Chinese art, modernization and Cinese art, westernization and Chinese art

Full Text:


ISSN: 2012-0788