WOMAN BE­HIND THE ARTIST

Liao Jing­wen, widow of famed pain­ter Xu Bei­hong, de­voted her life to his legacy, Lin Qi re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Liao Jing­wen, widow of the great pain­ter and art ed­u­ca­tor Xu Bei­hong (1895-1953), died peace­fully on Tues­day night at her res­i­dence in Bei­jing. She was 92.

She was re­ported to have been au­then­ti­cat­ing a paint­ing at­trib­uted to Xu on Mon­day, when she was last heard talk­ing.

Xu Qing­ping, son of Liao and Xu Bei­hong, says: “All her life, she made enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try and es­pe­cially its art course.

“She ful­filled her du­ties as a faith­ful mother and a re­spected el­der of our fam­ily. We feel so grate­ful to her.”

Liao is con­sid­ered “awoman who was born and lived for the sake of Xu Bei­hong”. She was a de­voted care­taker and as­sis­tant of the artist, who strug­gled with poor health and jug­gled many so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties in his late years.

Over the six decades since Xu’s sud­den death, she im­mersed her­self in the re­mem­brance of her late hus­band and ded­i­cated her­self to ex­tend­ing the in­flu­ence of his legacy.

Ma Lu, who teaches oil paint­ing at Bei­jing’s Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts, saw Liao only a few times but was im­pressed by her el­e­gance and kind­ness.

“She al­ways wore a red beret in win­ter, even when she dined,” he re­mem­bers. “The cap was quite old but made her look spir­ited. Her fam­ily said she liked it so much be­cause she bought it in Paris (where Xu Bei­hong stud­ied and lived for years).”

“I not only love Xu Bei­hong. I’m also his ad­mirer,” Liao of­ten told media. “When I’m alone, all these sweet mem­o­ries (be­tween us) re-emerge in my mind. They make me happy. They also bring me agony.”

Liao first met Xu when she was 19. Born in Chang­sha, Hu­nan province, she trav­eled to Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion in 1942. At the time Xu was work­ing on the open­ing of an art col­lege in Chongqing. He went to Guilin to scout for a li­brar­ian and in­ter­viewed Liao, who was one of the many ap­pli­cants.

The two fell in love de­spite the age gap — Liao was 28 years younger than the artist. Af­ter get­ting mar­ried in 1946, they moved to Bei­jing, where Xu headed the Beip­ing Art School, later re­named the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts in 1950.

They had a son and a daugh­ter. But the fam­ily’s hap­pi­ness came to a sud­den end when Xu died from brain hem­or­rhage at 58.

Shortly af­ter­ward, Liao made a gen­er­ous do­na­tion to the Min­istry of Cul­ture, in­clud­ing some 1,200 works of Xu and more than 1,000 Chi­nese paint­ings in his col­lec­tion, among other books, cal­lig­ra­phy pieces and im­por­tant art doc­u­ments.

She also do­nated a spa­cious court­yard house in Bei­jing, which Xu had bought for her. It was later con­verted to the Xu Bei­hong Me­mo­rial Mu­seum, where the do­na­tions are dis­played.

“For me, Bei­hong was the most im­por­tant per­son. He was gone, so why would I still keep such things?”

Liao di­rected the public mu­seum un­til her death. In 2005, she sold at an auc­tion the only two works of Xu in her own pos­ses­sion to save the public in­sti­tu­tion from fi­nan­cial strain.

“I wanted to have the two works ac­com­pany me to my tomb. But af­ter many sleep­less and tear­ful nights, I de­cided to trans­fer them to peo­ple who will love them as much as I did,” she told China Daily in 2005.

Liao also opened a stu­dio at the mu­seum of­fer­ing paint­ing cour­ses.

She was oc­cu­pied with much ap­praisal work: Xu’s paint­ings are sought af­ter in the mar­ket and fetch high prices at auc­tions. There were, there­fore, many fakes.

“I wish that af­ter I die, I could re­unite with Bei­hong. I will rest my head on his chest and tell him what I’ve gone through all these years and the pain I suf­fered from miss­ing him,” Liao once said. Con­tact the writer at linqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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