Details & Cataloguing

20th Century Chinese Art

Hong Kong

Ai Xuan
B. 1947
signed in pinyin and Chinese and dated 2011; signed in pinyin and Chinese, titled and dated 2011 on the reverse
oil on canvas
150 by 130 cm.   59 by 51 1/8  in.
Lire le rapport d'état Lire le rapport d'état


Important Private Asian Collection


Beijing, National Art Museum of China, China Realism - The Seventh Anniversary of Chinese Realism, December 21 – 29, 2011


New Vision, China Art Publishing House, Beijing, 2011, October Issue, inside cover, illustrated in colour
Five Stars of Contemporary Chinese Art Scene
, Hebei Education Press, Shijiazhuang, 2011, p. 20, illustrated in colour
E Junda, ed., China Realism - The Seventh Anniversary of Chinese Realism, Jilin Fine Arts Press, Changchun, 2011, p.13 - 14, illustrated in colour
The Path of the Masters, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2012, p. 36, illustrated in colour
Tang Huawei, ed., Contemporary Oil Painting 01, Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House, Hefei, 2012, p. 36, illustrated in colour 
Top Art - The Eighth Anniversary of China Realism
, Hong Kong Art Gallery Publishing House, Hong Kong, 2012, No. 11, cover, illustrated in colour
Guo Tao, ed., Ai Xuan & Chen Danqing, Shanghai Shuhua Publishing House, Shanghai, 2012, p. 18, illustrated in colour
Art from Nature, China Economics and Culture Publishing House, Hong Kong, 2012, No. 21, p. 7, illustrated in colour
Contemporary Art, Foreign Electronic Measurement Technology, Beijing, 2013, February Issue, p. 28, illustrated in colour


A devotion that transcends time, with captivating refinement
Ai Xuan’s tour de force Tibetan portrait, Longing

The son of modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and elder brother of contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, Ai Xuan shares the same passion for art as his illustrious father and sibling. In 2004, Ai Xuan joined Wang Yidong and Yang Feiyuan in establishing “Beijing realism.” The group was renamed “Chinese realism” the following year as it gathered like-minded artists as a unifying force, and Ai Xuan has been its key figure in the past nine years. Normally, Ai Xuan’s Tibetan-themed works feature singular figure. Longing is a rare double portrait in this series; the existence of two figures enriches the dramatic possibilities on canvas.

Beauty that portrays sorrow, gentleness that displays strength

A Tibetan man and a Tibetan woman are portrayed in Longing. At first glance, they should be lovers, yet it becomes evident that although their physical stances do match, their emotions are totally at variance. As the main figure, the young woman holds her hands tightly, while her expressive yet provocative eyes communicate doubt, anxiety and yearning. Tibet is known as the “roof of the world” with inclement weather throughout the seasons; therefore, the main concerns for the living are the challenges of aging and death. For Tibetan men and women, to live with someone one does not love might be a necessary path in life. Yet Ai Xuan does not resort to flaunting anguish in face of this harsh reality. Instead, he transforms it with “a touch of sorrow” or “a touch of desolation,” distilling an entire artistic language that draws our empathy.

Depicting an extreme landscape, creating a unique artistic language

Blue is a cool shade according to modern colour theories. In Longing, landscapes far and near are all tinged with blue, infusing the entire composition with melancholy yet accentuating the young woman’s red cheeks—symbols of hope and energy. Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance masterpiece Mona Lisa attains global fame because of the sense of mystery surrounding the character. Longing focusses on the unforgiving terrain of Tibet and the despondency of the characters, yet it also treats them with restraint and tact, in turn giving the viewer unlimited scope for imagination.

The essence of Western realism combined with Song and Yuan dynasty landscape paintings

Ai Xuan has always gathered influences from all sources, selecting what best fits him. He adheres to the masterful use of chiaroscuro from oldschool realist masters such as Rembrandt: the light source that focusses on the young woman’s head is also the centre from which it radiates, creating tension for the entire composition. Within the realm of Chinese painting, Ai Xuan benefits from the works of Ni Zan, one of the four great Yuan masters. In Longing, the background features a snow-covered plateau that symbolizes Nature’s desolation. Ni’s landscapes are distinguished by the typical setting of “a river dividing two banks.” If we use the Yuan master’s characteristic Desolate Landscape as reference, we can detect a similarity in Ai’s distant landscapes.

Developing and cultivating Tibetan themes

Chinese painters of old highlighted their work around southeast China, known as Jiangnan. They did not have access to the dangerous terrain or unrelenting winters of Tibet. Only in the middle of the twentieth century did artists take note of ethnic minorities living in the far western regions, and the only artist who has sustained his fascination and achieved success is Ai Xuan. Longing delves into the emotional lives of Tibetan men and women, underlining the artist’s cultural and humanistic spirit. This painting is a fine example of the Tibetan theme resulting from an artistic movement.

The first time Ai Xuan’s work ever appeared in an auction was in 1988, when Sotheby’s organized “The Return of Marco Polo”, a charity auction at Beijing’s Palace Museum, where works by Picasso and Rauschenberg were also offered. In 2010, Ai Xuan’s group portrait, The Sacred Mountain, was sold at 20.72 million RMB (approximately HK$24 million), his personal record to date. The debut of Longing this season will surely attract the attention of many.

20th Century Chinese Art

Hong Kong