The archive of Tao Yongbai (1937–) documents the career of one of the few female art historians and critics of her generation in China. Through her writing, criticism, and involvement in academia from the late 1970s onwards, Tao pioneered the study of the history of oil painting and women artists in China. Comprising over 2,500 records, the highlights include texts on debates around women’s art in China during the 1990s; Tao’s notes and interview records about significant oil painters of the twentieth century; and materials about 1980s Chinese art.

Biographical Notes 

Tao Yongbai was born in 1937 to a major gentry family of a progressive mindset in Jiangsu Province. She studied Chinese language and literature and graduated from Nanjing Normal University in 1958. Following her family’s relocation to Beijing in 1965, Tao taught Chinese language and literature at the High School Affiliated to Central Academy of Fine Arts.

During the Cultural Revolution, Tao was sent to work at a military farm with a group of students and colleagues, and later, began to paint as a result of the distress she experienced there. In 1975, with the establishment of the state-funded Research Institute of Literature and Arts (predecessor of the Chinese National Academy of Arts), Tao was appointed to work as a librarian at its Fine Art Research Centre. There, she encountered a large number of Republican era (1912–49) art periodicals, which sparked her interest in the modern art movements of the period. Meanwhile, she was responsible of compiling materials on the artist Wang Shikuo. In January 1979, Tao officially joined as research staff at the Fine Art Research Centre, and subsequently, during the 1980s, travelled extensively across China to conduct interviews with various art practitioners and gather primary materials for her research on Chinese oil painting history. This decade-long research culminated in the catalogue Oil Painting in China 1700–1985 [中國油畫:1700–1985]. Published in both English and Chinese in 1988, this catalogue is one of the first major surveys of Chinese oil painting in mainland China. During the 1980s, Tao was also an active writer reporting on emerging artists and art groups. Her art criticism was later published as the anthology The World of Painting: Thoughts of a Female Critic [畫壇—一位女評論者的思考] (1995).

From the late 1980s on, Tao became increasingly concerned with the under-representation of women in art history. Her essays and criticism on historical and contemporary women artists are consolidated in publications such as the catalogue Contemporary Chinese Women Painters [中國當代女畫家] (1995), The Lost History: Chinese Female Painting History [失落的歷史:中國女性繪畫史] (2000), and the anthology Walking Out of the Margin: The Long and Painful Journey of Chinese Women’s Art [走出邊緣:中國女性藝術的漫漫苦旅] (2016). Tao also sought to promote research on women’s art history by curating and organising academic activities. In 1995, along with her colleagues, she co-founded the Research Society of Women’s Culture and Arts [女性文化藝術學社], promoting cross-disciplinary and international academic exchange through symposiums, exhibitions, and publishing. The research society co-organised the Century Woman Art Exhibition [世紀·女性藝術展] (1998), with Tao curating the archival segment “History and Retrospect” at the National Art Museum of China. The exhibition and its symposium were considered landmark events for Chinese women’s art of the 1990s. In 2008, Tao curated Ongoing Woman [進行時·女性], featuring thirty-two women artists working in various media born between 1932 and 1982.

Tao retired from the Chinese National Academy of Arts in 1998, and continues to live and work in Beijing.

See Wu Jing’s interview with Tao Yongbai (in Chinese only) for more details about Tao’s life and work.

Description

Based on Tao Yongbai’s preliminary classification of materials, the archive is organised into eleven series that reflect Tao’s evolving roles and research foci from the late 1970s onwards.

1. Notebooks: Dates from 1979 to 1991, and includes Tao’s records of her interviews and meetings with different generations of art practitioners across China; research plans; reference materials; and notes on specific topics.

2. Compilation of Materials about Wang Shikuo: reports, interviews, correspondences, publications, and documents related to the life and work of artist Wang Shikuo, which Tao gathered from 1975 to the early 1980s, as well as Tao’s notes and manuscripts on the topic.

3. Research on Chinese Oil Painting History: clippings, correspondences, publications, and artist materials that Tao gathered during her research; Tao’s manuscripts, notes, and research tools such as chronologies and data forms; and materials that document the major outcomes of her research, such as lectures and the publication of Oil Painting in China 1700–1985.

4. Materials about Chinese Art of the 1980s: primary and secondary materials related to some key art groups, organisations, and events of the time. 

5. Women’s Art: Documents related to Tao’s endeavours in promoting the study of women’s art in the 1990s, such as initiating the Research Society of Women’s Art and Culture, and co-curating the Century Woman Art exhibition; and materials about women artists and groups, associations, and self-organised exhibitions of the 1990s.

6. Academic Conferences: papers, documents, and notes gathered by Tao from conferences and symposiums on Chinese art that she attended from the 1980s to the 2000s.

7. Writings by Tao Yongbai: Manuscripts and publications of essays and papers written by Tao Yongbai that were found in her archive.

8. Materials about Wu Guanzhong [work in progress]

9. Clippings [work in progress]

10. Ephemera [work in progress]

11. Personal Records [work in progress]

 Language 

Simplified and Traditional Chinese

Collection Access 

Onsite-only materials are available for consultation at AAA’s Library in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Please make an appointment at library@aaa.org.hk  

Collection Use 

Subject to all copyright laws. Permission to republish materials must be obtained from copyright owners. Please contact library@aaa.org.hk for further enquiries. 

History and Project Team

The organisation of the archive has been undertaken by researchers Congyang Xie and Anthony Yung since 2019, with advice from Jane DeBevoise. Digitisation was completed by Wenhui Du in May 2023. 

The initial batch of 1,241 records is launched in October 2023.

Credits

Scoping, research, organisation, and digitisation of the Tao Yongbai Archive is made possible through the support of the AAA Women and Gender Diversity Fund.

Extent

108 Folders, 1862 Records

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