Du Dakai vividly recalls a journey to Guangdong province in the winter of 1978. The professor of Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts and Design accompanied Zhu Danian (1916-95), an eminent painter and ceramic artist, to Xiqiao, a village to the south of Guangzhou known for its stunning natural scenery and rich cultural heritage, to travel and do some outdoor sketching.
“The mental picture of Zhu putting a thick overcoat around his shoulders, sitting on a small stool and indulging himself in drawing for almost a day has reemerged in my mind from time to time over the years. It’s a lifelong memory,” Du says.
Zhu, one of the founding members of the Central Academy of Arts and Design, now Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts and Design, pioneered the development of modern Chinese ceramic art and mural creation. He left an oeuvre consisting of pen drawings and Chinese ink-color paintings, presenting fine brushwork, realistic details and a vibrant palette.
Zhu was also the mastermind of the renowned Jianguo Ci porcelain sets produced in 1952. The crockery sets were exclusively designed for state banquets at the time and to be given as gifts to distinguished foreign guests.
Zhu is, however, seen as a master of art who has been generally long forgotten, for he led a low-profile life and was fully committed to creation and education.
To mark the 105th anniversary of Zhu’s birth, Tsinghua University Art Museum has opened an exhibition dedicated to his accomplishments in modern Chinese art and as a tribute to his intellectual demeanor. It runs until March 20 with dozens of his pen drawings and ink-color paintings, some of which came from a recent donation to the museum by the Zhu family.