ZHU QIZHAN (1892-1996)

Indian ink wash drawing on rice paper
250 x 130 cm
espacio del Consejo Ejecutivo
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin China
Donating country China
Donation made to UNESCO by China in 1979
© Photo : UNESCO
All rights reserved

Zhu Qizhan favors the use of slender forms laid-down on rice paper which rapidly absorbs Indian ink and is usually used for Chinese calligraphy.

In this work, two pines are represented slightly off-center, as if appearing from nowhere. The painted and empty spaces on the surface are both equally important and counter-balance each other. The tightened frame of the composition around both trees, contributes to the aesthetic effect of the work. The spectator must penetrate the work both physically and intellectually in order to recognize the message rather than read the painting.

Nature has been a central theme in East Asian art, where the artist attempts to evoke the harmony between man and nature; they greatly appreciate nature’s beauty and exceptional simplicity and believe nature and culture must coexist.

According to the Chinese concept of happiness, longevity is among the greatest privileges. By referring to longevity, prosperity and purity, the pine is a very symbolic tree in China. Eternally green, it lives for hundreds of years. Its persistent foliage symbolizes immortality. The pine here seems to spread out freely; the vertical shape of the work emphasizes its ascending movement and the idea of longevity. The artist’s approach is sensitive, personal, intimate. He offers the spectator an aesthetic experience.

"The ink, by soaking the paintbrush, must provide it with fluidity; the paintbrush, by using the ink, must endow it with spirit. The fluidity of the ink is a question of technical training; the spirit of the brush is a question of life."

(SHIH-T’AO, Comments on painting by the Bitter-Pumpkin monk, Herman, Paris, 1984)


The painter and calligrapher Zhu Qizhan was born in 1892 in a wealthy family in Taicang, in the Chinese province of Jiangsu. At the age of seven, he began studying painting with a private tutor, and as early as his twenties he became professor at the Shanghai Arts Academy.

He later travelled in Japan, where he studied Western oil painting methods. This experience, as well as his discovery of painters like Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso or Cezanne played a decisive role in his work, from then-on marked by the constant influence of Western painting, in the style, colors or techniques he used.

Deceased at the age of 105, Zhu Qizhan is today considered as a major painter in the history of Chinese art, particularly because of the transition he undertook between traditional Chinese painting and contemporary art. A contemporary art museum inaugurated in Shanghai in 1995 was named after Zhu Qizhan.