As China opened to the industrialized world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, diverse intellectual, cultural, and artistic influences flooded into China, while artistic communities began to question the vitality and future of the ink painting tradition. Many Chinese painters studied abroad in Europe and Japan, and consequently fully embraced Western approaches, including the use of perspective, chiaroscuro, and alternative (non-traditional Chinese) media, such as oil painting.
A few outstanding artists, however, insisted upon developing ink painting by integrating the aesthetics of ancient scripts and seal engravings with fresh ideas, particularly represented by calligraphic brush modes. In doing so, they successfully revitalized this tradition and created a novel and dynamic direction for the future of Chinese ink painting. The most influential of these figures, Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), Qi Baishi (1864-1957), Huang Binhong (1865-1955), and Pan Tianshou (1897-1971), are known in China as the “Four Great Masters.” (from Introduction)