Xie Zhiliu, born in 1910, is one of modern China’s leading traditional artists and a preeminent connoisseur of painting and calligraphy. He was born in a literary family in Wujin of Changzhou in 1910, named Zhi, with courtesy name of Zhiliu, and named Zhuang Muweng in his later years.
While living in a city with a strong tradition of bird-and-flower painting Xie excelled that genre. He received a traditional Chinese artistic education, which combined the two disciplines of copying the work of earlier masters and drawing directly from life. Moving to Chongqing to escape the Japanese occupation in 1937, he became a close friend of a renowned painter Zhang Daqian, who introduced him to the Buddhist cave murals of the Silk Road oasis of Dunhuang. After the war, he became an advisor and preeminent connoisseur on painting and calligraphy for the Shanghai Museum as well as a professor of painting. Thanks to his access to the rich holdings of the museum, Xie expanded his style through the study of Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasty painting, a topic on which he published.
His finished paintings, like those of many other Chinese artists, appear to be freehand creations—the work of a master draftsman who handled his brush with a confidence borne of years of practice. However, unlike many artists, Xie preserved numerous copies and sketches he made throughout his career, not only building a unique record of his creative process but also revealing how a seemingly spontaneous composition could be preceded by one or more sketches and drafts. These preparatory works could also serve as templates, thus liberating Xie from the need to visualize a completed composition in advance and allowing him to concentrate instead on making each of his brushstrokes as dynamic and fluid as possible.
Between 1983 and 1990 he led a team of scholars in evaluating the collections of China’s leading cultural institutions, which resulted in a twenty-four-volume illustrated index of more than seventy thousand paintings and calligraphies. Xie held personal exhibitions in many Chinese cities including Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming and Xi’an. He donated many artworks to his hometown Changzhou, which established the Xie Zhiliu Art Gallery in the Changzhou Museum in 1992.
Xie Zhiliu died in 1997.