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A place worth painting

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The picturesque water town of Guyan Huaxiang in Zhejiang province's Lishui city draws painters from around the country for its beauty. [Photo provided to China Daily]


Guyan Huaxiang's reputation as a picture-perfect destination has made it a hub for painters, who come from near and far to capture its beauty with brushstrokes, Xing Yi explores the town.


Li Dawei is putting the final touches on his 10-meter-long painting-an artistic representation of an old cobbled street in Guyan Huaxiang.


The artwork portrays the guesthouses and coffee shops that line the town's main street. It also depicts a cat perched on a large elm and fish swimming in a river.


"I love the big elm standing at the entrance to the street," Li says.


"It's like an old grandma watching the people and things happening in this lively township. This is my first visit here. It was love at first sight."


Guyan Huaxiang's name translates as "painting and dam town". And artists agree that the picturesque settlement in Zhejiang province's Lishui city lives up to its name.


Creative types like Li have been drawn to the scenery along the Oujiang River, the 800-year-old Song Dynasty (960-1279) Tongjiyan dam and the pristine peaks that fringe the town since the 1980s.


The town staged an arts festival between Aug 13 and 19 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the local Barbizon Painting School.


The original Barbizon School was established by a group of French artists, including Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet, who abandoned formalism. They drew inspiration directly from nature in the 19th century. Its leaders took the name from the village of Barbizon in France.


Fast forward to 1987. Chinese painters who had visited France brought the artistic approach to Guyan Huaxiang, which shares some similarities with Barbizon. They started to paint it in tribute to those French artists.


"Lishui's artists have inherited the Barbizon School's essence. So, they take their primary inspiration from nature," says Zhejiang Painting Academy's honorary dean, Pan Honghai.


"They're Guyan Huaxiang's artistic soul."


Guyan Huaxiang and Barbizon became sister cities in 2015.


Over 300 painters, including a growing number of art students, regularly visit the town to capture its beauty every year, Pan says.


Organizers of the recent festival invited a dozen emerging young artists with different specializations to host seminars and create new works.


International award-winning children's book illustrator Fu Wenzheng was among the group.


"I found the sky is bluer and the river is clearer here," she says.


"And time passes more slowly."


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