Never to Cease Fighting, a portrait of Lu Xun, a leading figure of 20th-century Chinese literature, is familiar to many Chinese people because the painting of him produced in 1971 has frequently been published in school textbooks over the years. But few people know much about its painter Tang Xiaoming, a devoted educator who has long been based in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
With a career spanning six decades, Tang, 400, is honorary chairman of the Guangdong Artists Association and has created dozens of portraits both of luminaries like Lu Xun and ordinary people from different walks of life. He exemplifies a realistic approach to painting that used to dominate the Chinese art scene for decades, and the figures he has depicted show the archetypal faces of a country in the throes of progress.
Inscribe the Times, an ongoing exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, which runs through June 16, reviews Tang's explorations in oil painting since his graduation from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1964. It displays his drawings and paintings, and features several classic Tang portraits that he says "reflect certain social situations and the mentality of the time".
The works on show include Never to Cease Fighting, which is on loan from the National Art Museum of China. It is juxtaposed with several others of Tang's paintings themed on the prominent author, including the picture book Lu Xun in Guangzhou and a portrait commissioned by the Shanghai Lu Xun Museum.
Shang Hui, an art theorist and editor-in-chief of Fine Arts magazine, says Lu Xun has long been a favorite figure for artists to depict, and Never to Cease Fighting is widely recognized as one of the best works featuring him.
"The painting hails the writer's fighting spirit by highlighting his eyes which glitter with acuteness and his tightly closed lips, which form a contrast with his weakening health that left him bedridden," Shang says.