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Work by the 'Chinese Picasso', Qi Baishi, comes to Malaga for first trip outside Asia

Qi Baishi was accompanied by a Chinese delegation at the launch at the Jorge Rando Museum.
Qi Baishi was accompanied by a Chinese delegation at the launch at the Jorge Rando Museum. / SALVADOR SALAS
  • The exhibition features the work of the most coveted and expensive Chinese artist in history

The lychees are waiting in a wicker basket as a bee seems to dive down to them. The fruits are little more than a translucid stain of mauve colouring diluted in water, but for the interiors the artist has used more energetic brushstrokes. The same occurs with the insect: it is lightweight but at the same time rooted in the role.

It is precisely this combination of quiet tradition and new dynamism of the settings, this look at everyday objects rather than great names and battles, which make Qi Baishi one of the great renovators of Chinese painting.

The artist caught the attention of the West eight years ago, when he became the third artist in the world in terms of auction sales, and at the end of last year broke the record for the most expensive Chinese painting in history when a series of 12 of his landscapes sold for 120 million euros.

His artistic revolution and prestige in the market have earned Qi Baishi (1864-1957) the nickname of the ‘Chinese Picasso’, and now his works are visiting the birthplace of the Spanish genius thanks to the Museum Jorge Rando, which is currently exhibiting them for the first time outside Asia in a display called ‘The Breeze from Qi Baishi’s Hometown’.

However, anyone who wants to see the delicate work of this Chinese artist should do so quickly: the exhibition will end tomorrow, Friday 23 March.

The reason the exhibition is so short is that Qi Baishi’s work is on tour with the Qi Baishi Memorial Museum of Xiantang, which is where the works in this display have come from.

The Chinese state TV channel CCTV has been filming a documentary about both artists in recent months, and during their research in Malaga the producers came across the Museum Jorge Rando and raised the possibility of it hosting the exhibition.

There is considerable interest in the display, as could be seen from the media presence at the opening earlier this week. The event was attended by Chinese officials; the honorary president of the Jorge Rando Foundation, Princess María Luisa of Prussia; the minister Wu Xiaoyue; the CEO of CCTV Documentary, Li Jinzhu; the mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre; and Jorge Rando himself.

The Chinese Picasso

The links between Qi Baishi and Picasso were explained during the presentation. The director of the Museum Jorge Rando, Vanesa Díez, pointed out that Picasso considered Qi Baishi “the best painter of East Asia”, and the curator of the Memorial Museum which is dedicated to the Chinese artist, Wang Qizhi, said there were parallels in the importance of each artist for their cities of origin.

Vanesa Díez also explained that Qi Baishi’s painting “has traces of expressionist poetry”, which links him with Jorge Rando. Also, both artists seek “spiritual resonance” in their work, she said.

Those links reach out across one of the exhibition rooms, which contains works by both artists. ‘The Breeze from Qi Baishi’s Hometown’ goes beyond the signature work which gives name to the project , and shows his influence on later generations of Chinese artists. The display contains over 60 pieces; half are by Qi Baishi and the others have been produced by ‘heirs’ of his style such as Chen Xiaoqui and Zhu Wenzhi.

This project is aimed to be “an encounter between eastern and western painting,” and it is the first time that the work of this coveted artist has been seen outside Asia.

Qi Baishi is famous now, but is still known as the “artist of the village” because of his focus on small everyday things. That is why lotus flowers, insects and crustaceans have almost become a sign of identity of Qi Baishi’s work, because of his “liberal style” of painting them, as Wang Qizhi explained.

This loose style of brushwork combined with an eagerness for almost calligraphic detail, a transcendentality shown through modest objects, from an artist born into a family of farmers whose work, 50 years after his death, is selling for hundreds of millions of yuan.