on the road about the artist collections awards contributors

DONG KINGMAN (1911 - 2000)
Dong Kingman, the world-renowned artist and teacher, died in his sleep on May 12, 2000 at age 89 in his home in Manhattan.  

Long acknowledged as an American watercolor master, he has received an extraordinary number of awards and honors throughout his 70-year career in the arts. Included are two Guggenheim fellowships in 1942 and 1943; the San Francisco Art Association First Purchase Prize, 1936; Audubon Artist Gold Medal of Honor, 1946; Philadelphia Watercolor Club Joseph Pennel Memorial Medal, 1950; Metropolitan Museum of Art Award, and the National Academy Design 150th Anniversary Gold Medal Award, 1975. In 1987, the American Watercolor Society awarded Dong Kingman its highest honor, the Dolphin Medal, “for having made outstanding contributions to art - especially to that of watercolor.”

His work is represented in the permanent collections of 50 museums and universities, including Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum; Butler Institute of American Art; Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts; Des Moines Art Center; M.H. deYoung Memorial Museum of Art; Fred Jones Jr., Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Munson-Williams Proctor Arts Institute; Museum of Modern Art; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden; Springfield Art Museum; Toledo Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Born in Oakland, California in 1911 of Chinese descent, Kingman moved to Hong Kong at age five. He studied art and calligraphy in his formative years at the Lingnan School. The painting master Szeto Wai had recently studied art in Paris and took a keen interest in young Dong’s precocious talents. He taught him both Chinese classical and French Impressionist styles of painting. 

Kingman returned home to Oakland when he was 18 at the height of the Depression. He worked as a newsboy and dishwasher to make ends meet. When he was employed as a houseboy for the Drew family in San Francisco, he painted every spare moment. In a year, he created enough pictures to have a one-man show at the Art Center. It attracted the attention of San Francisco art critics who raved about Kingman’s unique style. Wrote Junius Cravens of the San Francisco News: “That young Chinese artist is showing 20 of the freshest and most satisfying watercolors that have been seen hereabouts in many a day… Kingman already has developed that universal quality which may place a sincere artist work above the limitations of either racial characteristics or schools. Kingman’s art belongs to the world at large today.” Dong Kingman became an overnight success.

From 1936 to 1941, he was a project artist for WPA and became a pioneer for a new school of painting, the “California Style.” His two Guggenheim fellowships enabled him to travel the country painting American scenes. His first one-man show in New York at Midtown Galleries in 1942 was well received in the media, including Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker and American Artist. M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco held a major exhibit of his watercolors in 1945. In 1951, Midtown presented a 10-year retrospective of his work. Time Magazine wrote, “At age 40, Kingman is one of the world’s best watercolorists.” Other retrospectives, including Corcoran in Washington, D.C. and Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio, were held for the artist. In the late 50s, Kingman moved from Midtown to Wildenstein where he had successful exhibits for over a decade in New York, London and Paris. Hammer Galleries exhibited his paintings in the 70’s, and then the artist expanded his venues to the West Coast and Far East.

During World War II, he served with the OSS in Washington, DC where he was a cartographer. After his honorable discharge, Kingman moved to Brooklyn Heights from San Francisco when he became a guest lecturer and then art instructor at Columbia University (1946-1958). Hunter College also appointed him instructor in watercolors and Chinese Art (1948-1953). His teaching career continued with the Famous Artists School, Westport, CT in 1953, joining such distinguished artists on the faculty as Will Barnet, Stuart Davis, Norman Rockwell and Ben Shahn. He also became a teaching member for 40 years for the Hewitt Painting Workshops, which conducts worldwide painting tours. He taught at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, was a member of its board, and received an honorary doctorate from the Academy.

In 1954, the U.S. Department of State invited Kingman to go on a cultural exchange program tour around the world to give exhibitions and lectures and to meet local artists. When he came home, he presented the State Department with a 40-foot long report on a scroll, which later appeared in LIFE Magazine.

One of Kingman’s most treasured experiences was his invitation by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China to exhibit in that country in 1981. He was the first American artist to be accorded a one-man show since diplomatic relations resumed. More than 100,000 visitors attended his exhibitions in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou and the retrospective received critical acclaim from the Chinese press. Noted the China Daily Mail, “Just as the master painters of the Song Dynasty roamed about mountain and stream to capture the rhythm of nature, Dong Kingman traveled the world capturing the dynamism of modern life…familiar scenes have been transformed into a vibrant new vision of life through color schemes with rhythms that play over the entire surface of the picture. The wind swept skies which enliven his watercolors remind us of the pleinairism of the French Impressionists.”

Kingman, who has been fascinated with movies since seeing his first film “The Thief of Baghdad”, distinguished himself in this field as well. In 1954, the academy award -winning cinematographer James Wong Howe directed and photographed the exceptional 15-minute documentary, “Dong Kingman.” Kingman also produced, directed and animated “Hong Kong Dong” which received the Outstanding Achievement Award for Best Short Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1976.

Inevitably, Hollywood beckoned the celebrated watercolorist. His watercolors were used to set the visual moods in the films “Flower Drum Song” (Universal, 1961) and “55 Days At Peking” (Allied Artists, 1963), both giving the artist film credit. He served as technical advisor for “The World of Suzie Wong” (Paramount, 1964) and contributed his artwork to motion pictures including “Circus World” (Paramount, 1964); “King Rat” (Columbia, 1965); “The Sand Pebbles” (20th Century Fox, 1966); “The Desperados” (Columbia, 1969) and “Lost Horizons” (Columbia, 1973).

In the summer of 2000, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences highlighted Kingman’s involvement in films with a special two-month exhibition “Dong Kingman: An American Master in Hollywood” that commemorated his film-related work in the permanent collection of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills, CA.

His books include: “The Watercolors of Dong Kingman”, text by Alan D. Gruskin, introduction by William Soroyan (Crowell, 1958); “San Francisco: City On Golden Hills”, Herb Caen/Dong Kingman (Doubleday, 1967); “Dong Kingman’s Watercolors”, with his wife Helena Kuo Kingman (Watson-Guptil, 1980); “Paint the Yellow Tiger”, Dong Kingman (Sterling, 1991); and “Portraits of Cities”, Dong Kingman (22nd Century Film Corp., 1997) and “Dong Kingman: An American Master” (M James Fine Art 2000).

He has executed many commissions from magazine covers for Time, Life, Fortune, New York Times, and Saturday Review, to murals for the Bank of California in San Francisco, the Washington Mutual Bank in New York, the Ambassador Hotel in Hong Kong, and the Boca Raton Hotel in Florida. The mural “East Meets West” that he painted for the Lingnan Restaurant in Manhattan was rescued, restored and subsequently donated to the Brooklyn Public Library by Roslyn and Eugene Gamiel in 1997. The mural is now installed in the Library’s Multilingual Center. Among his posters, he created the “OpSail “1976 and 1986 editions, the “100th Anniversary of the Olympics Games” poster for the Games held in Atlanta as well as limited edition posters for Pan Am and the Hong Kong Tourist Association.

Among his charitable activities, he was the honored guest of Hong Kong Rotary International sponsored exhibit in June 1997 where the sale of his works at the handover festivities raised $70,000 for charities in Hong Kong. He contributed numerous watercolors to charitable organizations, including the World Federation of United Nations Association Limited Edition (WFUNA) art program and UNICEF.

In recent years, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan exhibited “40 Years of Watercolors by Dong Kingman” from November 1994 through January 1995. In 1999, the Taichung Provincial Museum in Taiwan presented a retrospective of Dong Kingman’s watercolor paintings. 

A national touring retrospective,” Dong Kingman: An American Master” with venues at the Governor’s Gallery, Legislative Building, Olympia, WA; Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco, CA; Louisiana Arts & Science Center, Baton Rouge, LA; and Brooklyn Public Library, N.Y. began in the Fall of 2000 and concluded in March 2002.

Washington’s Governor Gary Locke commented,”…I was looking at more than just paintings. The artist deftly brings together elements of his Chinese heritage and life in America. The paintings tell a story of a man’s quest to unite the best of both his worlds.” The retrospective, organized by the Institute of Chinese Culture and Arts and the curator Monte James, was funded in part by the Starr Foundation.

In 2001, activities honoring the artist include the presentation of the first annual American Watercolor Society Dong Kingman award; establishment of a Dong Kingman fellowship in the Visual Arts Division at the Columbia University School of the Arts;  and inclusion in the “Leading the Way” exhibit of pioneering Asia American artists held at Gordon College, Mass. From November 2001 to March 2002, the Chinese Historical Society of America & Museum and San Francisco State University's College of Creative Art co-sponsored a major exhibition, “Dong Kingman in San Francisco”, at the Society's new facilities in San Francisco. 

At the invitation of the Ministry of Culture, People’s Republic of China, a new exhibition, “Dong Kingman: Watercolor Master”, opened at Beijing National Museum towards the end of 2002, and then moved on to the Exhibition Galleries of the Hong Kong Central Library and concluded its China tour at the Shanghai Art Museum in early 2003. Co-hosting the exhibit were the China International Exhibition Agency and Century Masters, Inc. (CMI), a non-profit organization dedicated to cultural exchange and the arts. Major funding was provided by The Starr Foundation.  

For more on the artist, log onto www.dongkingman.org or search for his name on www.google.com.

Contact: Dong Kingman, Jr. Tel. and fax: (212) 787-1335
 e-mail: kingcom@att.net

Return to previous biography.

Home  | On the Road  | About the Artist | Collections | Awards | Contributors
Copyright 2000 Dong Kingman. All rights reserved.
Do not duplicate without express written permission.