Pierre Ryckmans: Artist and Art Historian

Pierre Ryckmans and Ting Yin Yung, New Asia College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1966. Courtesy Ryckmans family archive.

Pierre Ryckmans is best known for the writing on contemporary Chinese politics under the pen name Simon Leys in which he exposed the inhumanity of totalitarianism at a time of Maoist fanaticism. Yet throughout life his deep appreciation of Chinese art and culture nourished and sustained him.

Ryckmans’ early training at the Université Catholique de Louvain was in law, a family tradition, and art history. A trip to China in 1955 at the age of nineteen as a member of a Belgian youth delegation introduced him to China and the Chinese language which he took up in earnest after his return to Belgium. It would transform his life. Before arriving in Australia Ryckmans had studied and taught in Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. His early publications relate to Chinese art history. In Taiwan and Hong Kong he learned brush-and-ink painting from the esteemed practitioners P’u Hsin-Yu and Ting Yin Yung. He had always wanted to be a painter.

This talk will focus on Ryckmans’contribution to intercultural communication through his study and practice of art, particularly in the context of Australia where he lived for nearly fifty years, based in Canberra.

Claire Roberts is an art historian and curator specialising in modern and contemporary Chinese art and cultural flows between Australia and Asia. She is Associate Professor of Art History in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Claire studied at the Beijing Languages Institute and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (1978-81) and received her PhD from the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University (2006). She was previously Senior Curator of Asian decorative arts and design at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (1988-2010). Her most recent books are Ian Fairweather: A Life in Letters (edited with John Thompson, 2019), Photography and China (2013) and Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong (2010). Her forthcoming book is Fairweather and China (2021). Claire’s current Australian Research Council Future Fellowship research project ‘Reconfiguring the World. China. Art. Agency 1900s to Now’ focuses on the international context of modern and contemporary Chinese art.

Online via Zoom - 4.30pm Tuesday 11 May 



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Date & time

Tue 11 May 2021, 4.30pm




Associate Professor Dr Claire Roberts


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