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Dong Kingman
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Oakland CA
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New York
An award-winning painter known for his watercolors, Dong Kingman was also famous for his murals, magazine covers and paintings that appeared in Hollywood films. His depictions of San Francisco scenes in the 1930s and 1940s established his reputation, which continued to grow after he moved to New York City. Kingman was born in Oakland on March 31, 1911, named Dong Moy Shu. His father had a dry goods business. In 1916 his father returned to Hong Kong with the family. While in the Bok Jai School in Hong Kong, Kingman received a new given name reflecting his interest in art: King (meaning scenery) and Man (meaning composition). In the Chinese custom his family name, Dong, came first. Later he would combine the two words of his given name to “Kingman,” by which he became known. He learned calligraphy and painting with watercolors at the Chan Sun Wen School, and then studied under Szeto Wai at the Lingnan Academy. Szeto had studied in Paris and introduced Kingman to then-recent French art, including reproductions of works by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). Kingman returned to Oakland in 1929, where he studied at the Fox Morgan Art School and worked at various jobs, from factory work to employment as a houseboy for a San Francisco family. While he exhibited his works during the early 1930s, his breakthrough came at a solo exhibition in 1936 sponsored by the San Francisco Art Association. His watercolors received praise from the critic Junius Cravens (1894-1936) in the San Francisco News and he received the Art Association’s Purchase Prize. His works exhibited at an Art Association exhibition in 1937 led the critic Alfred Frankenstein (1906-1981) to describe Kingman in the San Francisco Chronicle as “San Francisco’s A No. 1 watercolorist.” Kingman painted nearly 500 works while employed by the federal Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project beginning in 1936, mostly watercolors depicting Bay Area landscapes and urban scenes. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased its first work by him in 1940. Kingman received Guggenheim fellowships in 1941 and 1942, allowing him to travel to Chicago, New Orleans, New York and several other locations, which he depicted in his watercolors. His works were purchased by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, which awarded him a prize in 1941. He began exhibiting at the Midtown Galleries in New York City in 1942, and later also exhibited the Wildenstein and Hammer galleries there. During World War II he served as a cartographer for the Office of Strategic Services. In 1945 the de Young Museum mounted an exhibition of his works and purchased his watercolor landscape Nevada from the show. Kingman moved to Brooklyn in 1946 and taught art at Columbia University (1946-1958) and Hunter College (1948-1953), while continuing to paint. Kingman was a founder of the Famous Artists Painting School in Westport, CT, which taught art by correspondence, in 1953. In 1954 the U. S. State Department appointed Kingman as a cultural ambassador and sponsored a trip that took him to East and South Asia and Europe. His report on the trip was a pictorial summary of the trip on a 40-foot long scroll, later published in Life magazine. He created magazine covers for Time, Life and Fortune, murals for buildings in San Francisco, New York City and Hong Kong, watercolors used for title sequences in Hollywood films, such as Flower Drum Song (1961), and art work for the sets of such films as The World of Suzie Wong (1960). Kingman stayed in touch with his friends in San Francisco, as Herb Caen (1916-1997) frequently noted in his newspaper columns; Kingman illustrated Caen’s 1967 book, San Francisco: City on Golden Hills. The Chinese Ministry of Culture sponsored a solo exhibition of Kingman’s paintings in Beijing and two other cities in China in 1981, and he exhibited his works in Taiwan in solo exhibitions in 1995 and 1999. Kingman’s many awards included the Audubon Artists Award in 1946 and 1958 and the National Academy of Design’s Gold Medal in 1975. Kingman succumbed to pancreatic cancer in New York City on May 12, 2000. Retrospective exhibitions of his art were shown in San Francisco and other cities in 2000 and 2001 and in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2002 and 2003. Columbia University created a fellowship in Kingman’s honor in 2002. (TNB 1/2014)
 Selected bibliography: Gruskin, Alan D. and William Saroyan. The Water Colors of Dong Kingman, and How the Artist Works. Studio Publications, New York, 1958. James, Monte. Dong Kingman: an American Master. Exhibition catalog. New York: M. James Fine Art, 2000.