It is freezing cold in Beijing. 

But it is sad that the temperature has fallen due to chilly winds and not by snow.

The capital city may kiss the year goodbye without seeing the soft, white flakes of winter.

Beijing used to get heavy snow. And it was not uncommon to see the classic architectures being covered in snow and people skating on thickly icy Shichahai lake.

Speaking of Shichahai, I recently saw an impressive oil painting depicting skaters on the lake.

It was painted by Li Ruinian, an artist who taught at Central Academy of Fine Arts for decades.

Shichahai looks somewhat different in the painting from what it appears today. The islet was visible, and there were no fences.

I happened to pass by Shichahai a couple of days ago.

These days it’s the home to dozens of sleeping ducks whose presence on the frozen lake attracts photographers.

Dwelling in Beijing for years, Li’s works capture a distinctive serenity of the historic city throughout the year.

Li studied oil painting in Brussels and Paris. He was a low-profile person, fully committed to painting and teaching.

A commemorative exhibition throughout Jan 3 at CAFA’s art museum brings Li and his art back to our vision.

His name unfamiliar to many of us, Li however was praised by Xu Beihong as “the top oil landscape painter in China”.

Li’s canvases transmit a mixture of purity, calmness and depth, showing an influence of his favorite artist, Gustave Courbet of 19th-century France.

This painting by Courbet, from the collection of Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, was shown at Tsinghua University Art Museum.

Li’s brushstrokes present those natural, beautiful moments of our life, coupled with faint poetry.

Li’s former student and CAFA professor Ai Zhongxin once said, “His paintings look plain at first sight. You pass by, and they would not try to stop you to greet.”

“But if you gaze at one of them for minutes, you will be captured by a hidden charm. The appeal is enduring and infinite.”

Li was not a productive painter. But his earnest and rigorous attitude toward work won him respect among the fellow artists.

Master painter Fu Baoshi once said Li treated art just like a devout religious person.

“He (Li) completed every painting with precision and sincerity, as if he was attending to a noble, lovely girlfriend.”

“He paid careful attention to details: the screws that fix the canvas, the pattern and color of the frame, and the part of wall where his paintings would be hung. He spared no efforts.”

More than 30 years have gone by since Li passed away. He left a legacy that is exuberant with honesty and implicit emotions.

Wish you a Happy New Year!