A native of Wujin, Jiangsu Province, China, Wang Chi-Yuan was among the first generation of Western-style painters and a key figure in the New Art Movement to revolutionize tradition. Fleeing the war within his country, he landed in San Francisco in 1942. That summer he visited the Yosemite area, a “stupendous place of great vistas and tremendous beauty.” He continued, “In these mountains I found the qualities of peace and beauty to which I could respond, and in the great quiet and calm I could work again.” In November 1942, he moved to New York, which became home to him. After the Metropolitan Museum of Art borrowed one of his paintings for a traveling exhibition, he decided to make good of this increased interest in Asian art and established a school where Chinese brushstroke would be taught. It was here that his new beliefs became evident: “A new joining of Eastern materials and Western hands to form not just a mixture of old things, but a wholly new art-a language which both East and West understand-and to which both contribute.”
Chi-Yuan was equally proficient in oils, watercolors, and ink, but in New York City he mainly painted in the latter two media and practiced calligraphy. His return to traditional painting was central to the formation of his Chinese identity in the United States. In time, he developed a hybrid style ranging from classical Chinese to conservative realism. Since he was unable to return home, his ashes were scattered over the Taiwan Straits after his death in 1975.