Qi Baishi

Qi Baishi (1 January 1864 – 16 September 1957) 齊白石 is best known in the western world as a painter but he considered himself primarily a seal carver. He created a unique style based on his experience as a wood carver, which is often imitated by later seal carvers. He used a single cut technique where one edge of a stroke is smooth and the other ragged.

He was born to a peasant family from Xiangtan, Hunan, and taught himself to paint, sparked by the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden. After he turned forty, he traveled, visiting various scenic spots in China. After 1917 he settled in Beijing.

He called himself “the rich man of three hundred stone seals.” In 1953, he was elected president of the China Artists Association. He died in Beijing in 1957.

“When I cut seals I do not abide by the old rules, and so I am accused of unorthodoxy. But I pity this generation’s stupidity, for they do not seem to realize that the Chin and Han artists were human and so are we, and we may have our unique qualities too… Such classical artists as Ching-teng, Hsueh-ko and Ta-ti-tzu dared to make bold strokes in their paintings, for which I admire them tremendously. My one regret is that I was not born three hundred years ago, for then I could have asked to grind ink or hold the paper for those gentleman, and if they would not have me I should have starved outside their doors rather than move away. How wonderful that would have been! I suppose future generations will admire our present artists just as much as we admire these men of old. What a pity that I will not be there to see it!” [Wikipedia]

For more information see the full Wikipedia entry.

He said, “In my seal cutting, when young I made a careful study of the calligraphy of the ancients, then looked for the inner logic of engraving characters. I did not spoil my work by ‘imitation,’ ‘artificial elaboration,’ or ‘over-polishing,’ considering these a waste of energy. When men praised my seals, I smiled; when they ran them down, I smiled.”

Partly because of his early training as a carpenter and wood engraver and partly because of a strong artistic temperment, Qi would not merely copy earlier masters. He once commented on his own seals,

“Vulgar people often describe their seal engraving as something derived from Qin and Han seals. In fact, they have not learned anything. In my own seals, I am often afraid of looking like Qin and Han.”

He said, “When I cut seals, I am not bound by old rules and so modern philistines think I follow no tradition. I pity these fellows for their stupidity. Can’t they understand that we are men just the same as the Qin and Han artists? Can’t they understand that we have our special merits, which the men of old would admire too if they could see them?”

Here are a few examples from the hundreds Qi Baishi carved that are typical of his style …

  • Pinyin: Qí Báishí
  • Wade-Giles: Ch’i Pai-shih
  • Also known as: Qí Huáng (齊璜), Qí Wèiqīng (齊渭清)
  • Affiliation: Hui School

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