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The Lingnan School was founded in 1906. The revolutionary artistic movement was started by the Japanese inspired Guangzhou painters, Gao Jianfu, Gao Qifeng and Chen Shuren. Their vision of the New Chinese Painting, xin guohua, was and still is influential in the formation of a new national painting style based on incorporating new ideas into the old, whilst never loosing touch with the personal and the present. Their political awareness and activity is both reflected in their notion of xin guohua and in the way that their art was subsequently used. The change of scale adopeted by the early practitioners resulted in large, monumental works for public display and the further spread of xin guohua was achieved by innovations made in the promotion of their paintings (through exhibitions and permanent displays and new training academies) in China. It wasn't until the Hunddred Days' Reform; led by Kang Youwei (in the late nineteenth century), that ronghe Zhongxi (blending the Chinese and the Western) was put into the central Goverment's painting theory.
In early Lingnan works, there is a strong Japanese influence stemming from the experiences that all three of the founders had, as students in Japan. The references in early Lingnan painting to Southern Song Dynasty painting were most likely gained through the Gao brother's and Chen's early Guangzhou training with teacher Ju LIan, who was influenced by Song Guangbao and Meng Jinyi, (the bird and flower painters from Central China). Resemblances in the early Lingnan style to early nineteenth century Western Romantism were mostly likely acquired form European sources and disseminated in China through trade or gleaned from returning Chinese scholars.
The xin guohua advocated by Gao Jianfu, one of the founders of the Lingnan School, recognised and stressed the historical fluctuation of artistic creativity in China's long history. Gao Jianfu encouraged bold experimentation and the acquisition of new ideas and techniques within the framework of what he perceived to be "national painting". Thus, while the Lingnan School considers itself an heir of tradition, it also is active in reassessing and reorganising traditional technoques and values. The founding Gao brothers and Chen Shuuren did not want to mix guohua together with other cultural art forms to produce a homogeneous whole. Instead, they sought to retain what they considered to be valuable from the past, whilst advocating innovation and the courageous ncreation of ideas inspired by lived experience to create the Lingnan's unique form of self-expression, xin guohua. The practice of the Lingnan School is unique in that it promotes lived experience to inform new forms of expression. A common saying maintained by the practitioners of the Lingnan School, is "art must take root and be nourished in life". All of life's experiences, of all emotional intensities, are valuable to the painter. This sentiment leads to the belief that artists should travel and have rich life experience to draw on for their painting. This belief accompanies the encouragement that painters reinterpret tradition in the light of their own experience. The Lingnan School's flexibility has popularised its notion of xin guohua both throughout China and internationally.




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