The work of 20th Century Chinese artists is commemorated both directly and indirectly on collectable Chinese coins. Some series issued by the People’s Bank of China specifically celebrate the work of a particular artist, such as the 1997 series featuring Qi Baishi (1864-1957) and some of his selected works. Other series issued indirectly commemorate artists and their work, such as the Lunar coins sets and series. While their main focus is the animals of the Chinese zodiac, the images of these animals featured are often paintings by famous Chinese artists, thereby indirectly celebrating their achievements and artworks.
The paintings produced by these artists dating from the 20th Century tend to be characterized by a skillful combination of traditional Chinese styles and modern western concepts and techniques such as scale and perspective. This incorporation of western concepts into traditional art began with the New Culture Movement of the mid 1910s and 1920s, a movement which saw a revolution in the arts in general (not just painting) and during which western ideas came to be seen as progressive and popular.
Some artists, like Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Ma Jin (1900-1970), whose works feature repeatedly in the Lunar coins series, were particularly well-known for their application of these western techniques onto more traditional styles of work. Others, like Qi Baishi, stand out because their worked remained largely uninfluenced by the influx of western artistic ideas during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Much of the work of these 20th Century artists shows their education and grounding in the traditional Chinese art of calligraphy and painting in Chinese ink. Since many artists were able to travel in their youth, they often had opportunities to study abroad, particularly in Europe, where they acquired these new western techniques. They then brought these ideas and methods back to China where they incorporated them into their own work, and in some cases set up new schools of art.