Zhejiang Province town aims to become international art hub
The draw of nature
Published: May 12, 2019 05:43 PM

From left: Lei Jianhua, Lu Zhengyuan and Xu Jiang Photo: Courtesy of Lu Zhengyuan


Let Life Be Beautiful Like Summer Flowers by Xu Jiang Photo: Courtesy of Lu Zhengyuan


Yunhe Rice Terrace by Xu Li Photo: Courtesy of Lu Zhengyuan

Thirty-something Shen has been sitting the entire day in the hopes he will be able to put the last brush stoke to his painting before the sun sets. For many professional painters like Shen, the banks of the Oujiang River in Guyanhuaxiang, East China's Zhejiang Province, have become a trendy spot for sketching and painting in recent years. 

Artists can spend months living and working in the small town located within Lishui city, producing hundreds of paintings of the region's beautiful natural scenery. Their works also attract a number of travelers to Lishui, especially during major holidays, like the recent four-day May Day holiday that kicked off on May 1. 

The town's artistic connection all started when a group of local artists visited the town in 1986 to sketch the local landscape. They fell in love with the area so much that they decided to call themselves the Lishui Barbizon School. Today, after decades of development, the small town is looking to become a major tourist hub with its first modern museum, the Li Museum, which opened on Tuesday.

China's answer to Barbizon 

The village of Barbizon, near the Forest of Fontainebleau in France, saw many artists gather there from 1830 through 1870. Called the Barbizon school of painters, the group gravitated toward realism in art. 

"We have natural views and decades of tradition," said Lei Jianhua, deputy director of the local admissions committee, on Tuesday.  

"Why can't an art town such as ours here become China's answer to Barbizon? After all, it has been naturally developing toward this for decades."

The town's name, , literally means "ancient dam painting town." As the name indicates, its two major draws are the 1,500 year-old Tongji Weir and the painting village. Connected by the Oujiang River, the two areas attract thousands of travelers who come to enjoy the natural scenery. 

According to Lei, the town's No.1 Art Zone has nearly 70 art organizations, institutions and artists. As word of mouth has spread, the town has become a tourist hot spot that received more than 1.7 million visitors in 2018.  

The local government is looking to give the local cultural industry a further push by introducing the Li Museum and its very first exhibition: Lishui Hymn: Famous Artists Invitational Exhibition & Lishui Barbizon Document Exhibition.

"More visitors will come to the town to appreciate our Lishui Barbizon paintings, while more artists will find inspiration," Du Xinglin, party chief of Lishui's Liandu district, where the town is located, said at the opening of the Li Museum on Tuesday. 

The opening exhibition is showcasing hundreds of paintings featuring the region's natural landscapes by artists from home and abroad, such as international artists Gaetano Grillo, Mathieu Le Rolland and Marie Rauzy. 

Xu Jiang, president of China Academy of Arts put much hope on the development of oil paintings with China's own characteristics. 

"China's landscape paintings are closely related to landscape poetry. Xie Lingyun (385-433), one of China's earliest landscape poets, lived and started his career here. So today, relying on these waters and mountains in front of us, we can also create our own oil paintings that will be admired by the whole world. This is the mission of all Chinese artists," Xu said during the exhibition's opening.

Looking to the future

According to the exhibition's curator Lu Zhengyuan, the exhibition not only displays the history and recent development of Guyanhuaxiang and the Lishui Barbizon School, but also explores the town's future direction. 

"The four chapters in the showcase section allows us to learn more about what the town has achieved in terms of art creation," said Lu. 

Xie Yili, the Li Museum's curator and founder, said he considers the new exhibition as a great starting point to upgrade the town to an all new level. 

"In that case, the Li Museum can develop into an art organization that was born from the local landscape but grew up with an international background. We can show the beauty of Guyanhuaxiang, as well as be a bridge for international artists," he said. 

Lu added that the exhibition can also act as a source of inspiration for local artists. 

"They will be surprised to see that paintings can be done in this way," added Lu.