Shanghai School

Shanghai School is a style of Chinese painting from the late 19th century and centered in Shanghai. During this period, China entered a time of political and economic decline, numerous artists were attracted to the relative safety of Shanghai, a treaty port where traditional Chinese painting styles were increasingly influenced by new imported media, including photography, lithography, color posters, and mass-circulation newspapers.

The three hundred years of Chinese art history prior to Shanghai School was dominated by the traditional ink wash painting. The Shanghai style marked the first major departure from traditionalist Chinese painting by breaking the elitist tradition of Chinese art, focusing less on the symbolism emphasized by the Literati style and more on the visual content of the painting itself.

The Shanghai School drew inspiration from the highly expressive and dramatically charged imagery and brushwork of seventeenth-century individualists and the “eccentric” painters of eighteenth-century Yangzhou. Shanghai artists preferred a greater degree of exaggeration in forms and a brighter palette—stressing visual impact over symbolism or narrative content. Ironically, the growing presence of Japanese and Western printed books, photographs, and advertising led to a renewed interest in traditional painting, which remained the prevailing trend through the end of the century. Notable artists from the Shanghai School include Wu Changshuo 吳昌碩 (1844-1927), Zhang Daqian (張大千1899-1983), He Tianjian贺天健 (1891-1977).