National Art Museum of China director Fan Di'an unveiled a Chinese exhibition in Rome on Wednesday with 100 seminal works that help define the transition between ancient and modern Chinese art.
"At a time when Chinese and Western cultures came together, between the 19th and 20th centuries, these six Chinese masters emerged from tradition and conquered the discretion of the time," Fan Di'an said at the opening ceremony.
"They accept the West but absorb it with care. Their creativity is not just a linguistic transformation but mainly a transformation of thought," he said.
"At a time of great social transformation in China, despite the unstable and difficult conditions they did not abandon their artistic ideals," he added.
The exhibition entitled "Beyond Tradition" shows "the protagonists of a total transformation in traditional Chinese painting in its artistic, technical, cultural and social forms," organisers said in a statement.
The six artists - Ren Bonian, Jiang Zhaohe, Qi Baishi, Pan Tianshou, Huang Binhong and Li Keran - were "the first bridges towards contemporary Chinese art, the first to be taken up with modernity," the statement said.
A Qi Baishi painting was sold at auction last month in Beijing for 65 million dollars (45 million euros) - a world record for modern Chinese art.
Divided into three categories "Portraits", "Flowers and Birds" and "Lanscapes", the paintings are arranged in the stately halls of the historic Palazzo Venezia in central Rome and the show runs until September 15.