Wang Guodong, painter of Mao Zedong’s portrait for Tiananmen Square, 1931–2019

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Wang Guodong, the artist responsible for the giant portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, has died. Wang was first commissioned to produce the 4.5 x 6 metre painting in 1964 and produced a new version annually until 1976. His successors, apprentices appointed by the artist, continued to use Wang’s original work as the basis for their own.

Wang himself had been instructed to use a government-issued photograph of the Communist leader as his reference, but the initial design caused some controversy – and trouble for Wang – in that it depicted Mao with his face slightly turned so as to only show one ear. Critics within the government said the work gave the impression that Mao only listened to some of his public. Wang was punished but allowed to make a new version in which both ears of the leader were visible.

In 1972, Andy Warhol used Wang's painting as the basis of his repeated screenprints.

2 September 2019