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Dong Kingman: Watercolor Master

November 15, 2002 to March 15, 2003


At the invitation of the Ministry of Culture, People's Republic of China, the works of internationally renowned Chinese-American artist, Dong Kingman (1911-2000), will open in a retrospective exhibition at the National Museum of Chinese Revolution History in Beijing on November 15th through the 30th, 2002. The exhibition, "Dong Kingman: Watercolor Master," comprised of nearly 100 watercolor paintings and drawings, spans seven decades of Kingman's artistic career. The exhibit will continue at the Exhibition Galleries, Hong Kong Central Library (Dec. 28, 2002 ­ Jan. 27, 2003) at the invitation of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and then to Shanghai Art Museum (Feb. 28 ­ March 15, 2003). (left: Dong Kingman (1911-2000), Blue Moon, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA)

In addition to commemorating Kingman's extraordinary career, Kingman's second major exhibit in China coincides with and commemorates 30 years since relations between United States and China resumed. His prior exhibition in China in 1981 was the first American one-man show since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"This retrospective reinforces not only Kingman's mastery of the medium, but shows the influence of two cultures on his work. In turn, his career exerts an influence and provides a cultural bridge on the arts of the two cultures," noted Monte James, president of Century Masters, Inc. and curator of the exhibit. "We have on loan some of the finest examples of his work from museum and private collections, including 'Blue Moon' from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 'South Ferry' from the Springfield Art Museum in Missouri, 'Lighthouse' from the Butler Institute of American Art, 'Piqua, Ohio' and 'Trees on Third Street' from the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art in Oklahoma.

Co-hosting "Dong Kingman: Watercolor Master" are the China International Exhibition Agency in Beijing and Shanghai, and Leisure and Cultural Services Department in Hong Kong, along with the organizer, Century Masters, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to the arts. Major funding is provided by The Starr Foundation. (left: Dong Kingman (1911-2000), Chinese Laundry, Private Collection)

Kingman, whose paintings are represented in the collections of over 50 museums, is regarded as one of the 20th century's premier watercolor masters. Born in Oakland, California in 1911, Kingman moved to Hong Kong with his family at age five where his father sought to give his children a good Chinese education. According to Chinese custom, Kingman was given his new name when he entered school. Seeing that he had talent as an artist, his teacher gave him the name of King (scenery) Man (composition). In later years, the artist combined the two words into Kingman and following Chinese custom, he used the family name first and the given name second, thus Dong Kingman. He studied Chinese art, calligraphy and literature in his formative years at the Chan Sun Wen and Lingnan Schools.

The Paris-trained painting master Szeto Wai at Lingnan took a keen interest in young Dong's precocious talents. He taught him Chinese classical and French impressionist styles of painting. The Chinese education and classical art training had a profound influence on his paintings in how he interpreted nature and the urban environment, and on his oftentimes mysterious, mythological and surrealistic world.

Kingman returned to Oakland at age 18. During the Depression era decade that followed, Kingman would emerge as one of America 's leading artists and a pioneer of the California Style School of painting. From 1935 to 1941, he participated in the Works Progress Administration (WPA), along with such painters as Reginald Marsh and Thomas Hart Benton, which enabled him to explore the watercolor medium and to forge his own unique East/West style. A 1936 solo exhibition at the San Francisco Art Association brought him instant success and national recognition. Art critic Junius Cravens was effusive: "The young Chinese artist is showing 20 of the freshest, most satisfying watercolors that have been seen hereabouts in many a day...He handles his color fluently, in broad telling masses.   He is completely sincere and never superficial...Here is a real watercolor painter."

After back to back Guggenheim Fellowships and serving in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, he settled in Brooklyn, exhibited regularly at Midtown Galleries and later at Wildenstein & Co. He taught art at Columbia University and Hunter College for 10 years and then became a founding faculty member of Famous Artists School in Westport, CT. In the ensuing years, the artist found time to be a goodwill ambassador when he went on a lecture tour of Asia and Europe for the U.S. State Department in 1954. His many painting trips to the Far East culminated in a major exhibition in Hong Kong in the early 70s. (left: Dong Kingman (1911-2000), Trees on Third Street, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman, OK)

Arts of Asia in a 1973 article noted, "...not a man to rest on his laurels, he is plumbing new depths to improve and revitalize his work. His latest objects of study, and the subjects of a delightful series of watercolors, are trees...the inclination that led him to this phase may be partially visual, but perhaps it also arises from the Chinese culture that permeates his soul, the Oriental love of the natural world and its creatures that has inspired Dong Kingman to seek (his) own visual communion with the manifold, transient yet eternal forms of life."   

In 1981, the Ministry of Culture, PRC, hosted a critically acclaimed retrospective of Kingman's paintings in Beijing, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou. The exhibition, attended by well over 100,000 people, was the first American one-man show since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China. Noted the China Daily Mail, "Just as the master painters of the Song Dynasty roamed about mountain and stream to capture the rhythm of nature, Dong Kingman traveled the world capturing the dynamism of modern life...familiar scenes have been transformed into a vibrant new vision of life through color schemes with rhythms that play over the entire surface of the picture. The wind swept skies which enliven his watercolors remind us of the pleinairism of the French Impressionists." In addition, he created brilliant main title paintings for such films as "Flower Drum Song."

Over 300 of his film-related works are permanently housed at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills, California. In the summer of 2000, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honored him with a special exhibition, "Dong Kingman: An American Master in Hollywood." Among his charitable activities, he was the honored guest of Hong Kong Rotary International sponsored exhibit in June 1997 where the sale of his works raised $70,000 for charities in Hong Kong.

The artist received numerous awards and honors throughout his 70-year career in the arts.  They include two Guggenheim fellowships, the Art Institute of Chicago International Watercolor Exhibition Award, the Audubon Artist Gold Medal of Honor, the Philadelphia Watercolor Club Joseph Pennel Memorial Medal, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Award, the National Academy of Design 150th Anniversary Gold Medal Award, and the American Watercolor Society's highest honor, the Dolphin Medal.

Kingman's work is in the collections of over 50 institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Brooklyn Museum, Butler Institute of American Art, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Munson-Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Museum of Modern Art, Springfield Art Museum, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Toledo Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Recently, the Chinese Historical Society of America and Museum and San Francisco State University co-sponsored the major "Dong Kingman in San Francisco" exhibition, inaugurating the Society's new facilities. In early 2002, the retrospective "Dong Kingman: An American Master" concluded a highly successful national tour of the U.S. Commenting on the retrospective which opened at the Governor's Gallery, Legislative Building in Olympia, WA, Washington 's Governor Gary Locke said, "I was looking at more than just paintings. The artist deftly brings together elements of his Chinese heritage and life in America. The paintings tell a story of a man's quest to unite the best of both his worlds."

Venue addresses: The National Museum of Chinese Revolution History, 16 Dong Chang An Avenue, Beijing; Shanghai Art Museum, 325 Nan Jing Road West, Shanghai; Hong Kong Central Library, Exhibition Galleries, 66 Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.

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