Please note the changed opening hours of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin since 16 April 2024. More


God-like Humans, Human Gods
Painting the Figure in the 20th Century

21.12.2010 to 17.04.2011

The immense changes that took place in Chinese society over the course of the 20th century are also reflected in the new importance assigned to the painting of the figure. The realistic depiction of people from contemporary life became one of the major concerns of the day. New kinds of pictures depicting people even found their way into 'guohua', the form of painting using the classic media of brush and ink. At the same time though, subjects relating to popular beliefs remained unchanging. Motifs of a mythological nature that claim to bring good fortune and prosperity have remained popular and are a recurrent theme to this day.

In the 20th century, the diversity of ethnic groups living within China's borders became a new topic in painting. Such diversity inspired artists to create romanticising portraits. In the spirit of Maoist cultural policy, people at work, typified as heroes and imbued with optimism, stood at the heart of such depictions. In such images, figures were seldom ever portrayed as individuals. Critical reflection on the other hand, the questioning of inner and external views and the depiction of doubt, fear or unease were things more readily seen in portraits and self-portraits. Parallel to this, traditional woodcuts and book illustrations provided many artists with the inspiration to continue their work.