Artist: Xu Beihong (1895-1953)
Historical period(s)
Modern period, 1942
Ink on paper
H x W (overall): 240 × 68.6 cm (94 1/2 × 27 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Smithsonian Unrestricted Trust Funds
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

China, horse, Modern period (1912 - present)

To 1990
Ms. Rosy Wang, Houston, TX, to 1990 [1]

From 1990
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, purchased from Ms. Rosy Wang in 1990


[1] Rosy (Meiying) Wang is the Meiyang of the inscription on the painting (according to Provenance Remark 1 in the object record).

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Ms. Rosy Wang


Xu Beihong was an outstanding artist and educator, whose painting was known for bridging traditional Chinese literati, or scholar-style, painting and Western art. Trained to paint by his father, Xu Beihong first made his living as an itinerant portrait artist. Eventually important scholars recognized his talents, including the calligrapher and reformer Kang Youwei (1858-1927), who furthered Xu's art career by giving him access to study ancient works of art. In 1917, Xu moved to Beijing to teach painting, and he studied masterpieces formerly in the imperial collection. Xu thought that contemporary Chinese painting had declined in comparison to the past, so he decided to study art in Paris, with the intention of bringing new ideas back to his homeland. When he returned to China in 1927, Xu painted Chinese narrative themes, but he used Western oil paints and draftsmanship. Xu's new style proved influential in China.

Horses ultimately became Xu Beihong's most famous subject. He pioneered a style combining traditional Chinese ink brushwork with Western-inspired anatomical correctness and volumetric presence. The areas of void (where the paper shows through) on the rumps and flanks of the horses have an effect akin to the highlights a Western artist would have created with white paint. Xu produced images of horses using a modular approach of formulaic brushstrokes to define the heads, necks, chests, manes, rumps, and tails. Yet each time he arranged the strokes, the end result was seemingly spontaneous.

Xu's horses originally were invested with allegorical content. When he first painted them in the 1940s during the Sino-Japanese War, the animals' energy both reflected Xu's rage and sorrow at China's weakness and symbolized hope for his countrymen to win the war. His horses proved so popular that Xu painted them until the end of his life.

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
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