Exhibition/Display Details

Fang Zhaoling: A Centenary Exhibition

2 Oct 2014 to 22 Feb 2015

The autumn exhibition in the Ashmolean’s Chinese Paintings Gallery commemorates the life of Fang Zhaoling (1914–2006). Drawn from private collections, including the Fang family collection, many of the works are on display for the first time in public.

Fang Zhaolin was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province in east China in 1914. She began studying Chinese painting and calligraphy at the age of thirteen, later going on to an art college in Wuxi. In 1948 she moved to Hong Kong and continued to develop her art. She studied with the Lingnan School master, Zhao Shao’ang (1905–1998), and later with one of the most celebrated Chinese artists, Zhang Daqian (1899–1983). She lived and travelled in Europe and America, and attended both Hong Kong and Oxford Universities. She continued to work as a well-established artist into her eighties. The paintings in this display are from private collections in Asia and the UK; some Fang gave as gifts to her friends and colleagues during her time in Oxford.

Object Focus

Vegetables, 1958

Vegetables, 1958, ink and colours
on paper © Fang Zhaoling Foundation

Food features often in Fang Zhaoling’s paintings. This picture of pak choi cabbage and other vegetables is one of five small paintings in the current exhibition that depicts things to eat. The foods are always seasonal and the inscriptions on the paintings show how they connect with the place or time they were painted - persimmons for the mid-autumn moon festival, famous Lake Tai crab from the artist’s birthplace Wuxi in east China, or pears and melon painted just before she and her sons consumed them in their London flat in the 1960s.

Several paintings in the exhibition have inscriptions added years later, recording Fang’s reflections on her life at the time they were created. One of these outlines at some length the difficulties of painting while bearing heavy domestic responsibilities. For Fang Zhaoling the challenges of maintaining her creative and maternal roles were addressed in the face of political and personal turmoil as well. She was born in 1914 in the turbulence that followed the collapse of Imperial China and her father, a prominent industrialist, was assassinated when she was just eleven. Her mother believed in educating daughters – a view not prevalent at that time - and after private tuition and a girls’ school she left for university in the UK, at Manchester. She was there in 1939 when war broke out in Europe so she and her husband returned to China, enduring the next decade there as refugees from the Sino-Japanese war and then civil war. Eventually they settled in Hong Kong with their eight children but sadly Fang Zhaoling’s husband died soon afterwards.

At this point Fang Zhaoling took over her husband’s business, resumed her painting studies and then completed her university training too, first in Hong Kong and then in Oxford. For the rest of her life she travelled constantly between England, Hong Kong and the US, for her own art and for her children’s education. The landscapes and the still lifes she painted however were always, in her mind, depictions of home. She led a remarkable life, from studying within the confines of a privileged household to travelling the world as an independent artist.

Gallery 11 | Admission Free