Not all painters start out this way: Xugu (虛谷, 1823–1896), original name Zhu Huairen (朱懷仁), was first an army officer before becoming a Buddhist monk of the Chan (Zen) sect.

       Xugu was born in Xin’an (modern Shexian) in Anhui province, and later lived in Guangling (modern Yangzhou) in Jiangsu province. He eventually moved to Shanghai and became a prominent member of the Shanghai art world. Xugu was highly regarded by fellow artists, such as Ren Bonian (任伯年), who in turn became his closest friends, but he was less well known outside those circles.

       Xugu’s subject matter virtually covers the entire classic repertoire. He excelled in bird-and-flower painting, especially fish and squirrels, but also painted landscapes and portraits. Xugu is known as one of the Four Masters of the Shanghai School, alongside Pu Hua (蒲華), Ren Bonian (任伯年), and Wu Changshuo (吳昌碩).