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Artist Shen Jiawei's paintings of Chinese soldiers during the Cultural Revolution were so popular with Mao's regime that 250,000 copies of his most famous work were made into propaganda posters and distributed throughout the country.Four decades later, Shen now has a different patron commissioning his work: He has become, somewhat inexplicably, the unofficial portrait artist of the Vatican. With the more robust soldiers in place, the picture was reproduced and turned into propaganda posters and Shen shot to fame.Today, Shen is proud of his work – not because it was good propaganda, but because he managed to become an artist in China at a time when oil paints were otherwise nearly impossible to obtain. He says he didn't sell out to the idealized standards of propaganda art that most other Chinese artists copied. Francis didn't sit for the portrait, but the Vatican offered up official photos for Shen to use.Geoff Raby, Australia's former ambassador to China who has a print of Shen's "Standing Guard" in his collection of propaganda art, said Shen's portrait career is a natural progression from the propaganda art and historical paintings that he is most famous for.
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