The global artistic culture underwent tremendous changes in the early 20th century; it was also a critical time for the development of Asian modern art. Chen Cheng-po was born in Taiwan. Having studied in Japan and taught in Shanghai, he immersed himself in the traditional Asian culture, while experienced the cultural clash of Eastern and Western trends. Under such context, Chen searched for the co-existence and integration of the two cultures; and devoted himself to the recreation of the humanistic characteristic of an era and environment. Chen reflected the evolution of time in his own artistic exploratory tributaries. At the same time, the distinctively cross-territory character in his work has made him a significant epitome of Modern Asian art.
In 1933, Chen returned to Taiwan from Shanghai, he nevertheless traveled to paint in different parts of Taiwan, and declaring with enthusiasm that "nature is my studio." Chen reflects the unique cultural landscape of a place though his depiction of the scenery. Starting from 1941, Chen was unable to sketch in places afar because of the war. As his good friend, Liao Chichun, taught at the Tainan Presbyterian Female School (now the Changjung Girl's Junior High School) he was granted permission to sketch within the school campus, creating a series of works that centers on Sin-Lau (a alternative name for the school). After the works on Danshui and Jiayi sceneries that he created in 1930s, this marks another peak of his artistic career. Sin-Lau Girls School, Taiwan (Lot 1017) in this Evening Sale displays the mature style of Chen in terms of composition and form. It is also the work which Chen submitted for the exhibition at the 4th Governor-General of Taiwan "Uncensored" Art Exhibition.
In 1938, the Sino-Japanese war broke out, the Taiwan Art Exhibition became the Government-General of Taiwan art show. Art exhibitions have become an important event that the government could use to mobilize national spirit. The organizer, the House of Government- General, encouraged the artists to "repay the country with their colour brushes". However, it is evident from looking at his exhibited works from Ancient Temple and Summer Tide, to Sin- Lau Girls School, Taiwan, the artist found inspiration from the traditional Taiwanese architecture or immediate surroundings. He did not insert any political propagandist elements into the paintings, and represented the natural environment and state of living in his own personal style. Under such circumstances, Sin- Lau Girls School, Taiwan is not a simple imitation of a familiar scene; instead, the artist expressed his deep affection through the portrayal of the local customs and conditions and reflects the many scenes of daily lives through his artistic creation. The painting is a positive interpretation of contemporary life in the unstable period, which is significant of the era it has been created from.
Created in 1941, Sin-Lau Girls School, Taiwan sets its background with the new building of the Presbyterian Female School that was built in 1923. The building blended in the Western eclectic style and red-bricks arch, displaying a distinctive fusion of Min (Chinese Fujian) and Western style which is the reason why it remains as an important Tainan heritage site. Chen chose to paint with the method of multiple perspectives; he further created the pictorial framework by combining the foreground spatial arrangement in his previous iconic work Street Scene on a Summer Day, with the peripheral rows of trees in Spring in the West Lake. This allows him to deal with the arrangement and composition more skillfully. In the foreground, the meandering footpath leads towards the new building, which echoes with the growing direction of the trees on the right side. At the same time, it extends the viewer's sight towards the sky. Chen painted with curving brush strokes that run from the top right to the lower left to create a gradational blue sky while forming a visual path that leads one's sight back to the left row of trees, and finally to the centred foreground. Such circular visual paths creates a forceful sense of movement within a still image. Together, the tight composition and the vivid brush strokes create a striking visual experience. The circular strokes embody the traditional Chinese cosmic view of "the spherical heaven and the flat earth". Chen further stressed the circular features through depicting the tree canopies and bushes as simplified circles, illustrating the leaves in round and curvy strokes, and by adding elements such as the semi-circle arches. Circles and roundness represent harmony, and completeness; it seems that the artist is trying to convey his hope for entirety and perfection during the chaotic time even through the use of forms
Under the influence of the Japanese Ukiyo-e and traditional Chinese landscape paintings, Chen organized Sin-Lau Girls School, Taiwan with the Eastern concept of spatiality. Among the varying viewpoints are a clear sectioning of foreground, middle ground and the background. Although he did not apply the traditional aerial perspective, he still managed to create a certain level of depth of view. In the foreground he laid out a broad grass field; other imagery and objects are placed carefully in between varying distance and density which make the mother and son at the centre become the focus of the work. Under the striking lighting contrast, a dramatic and theatrical effect is created. The art historian, Yan Juanying, mentioned in the article, "The Formation of Painting Style of Chen Chengpo", that Chen has been restricted by the actual political situation at the time. Therefore, he shifted his subjects to zoos, parks, school etc., such places that are associated with children. This perhaps symbolizes the artist's will to entrust his hope onto the next generation. In Sin-Lau Girls School,Taiwan, among the layering sky, the artist used light blue as a complementing colour to the new building. With their back towards the viewer, the mother and child walk towards the new buildings; and as they do, they seem to be walking towards the light source as well. The setting of the scene stands for the artist's aspiration for the future generation. In comparison to his works created in 1934 such as Street Scene on a Summer Day and Spring in the West Lake. Sin-Lau Girls School, Taiwan is more vibrant in terms of the colour tone. The increase in brightness and the vibrancy of colours reflects a shift in the artist's creative sentiment. The reduction of darker colour tones allows a more subjective emotional expression style. At the same time, it also reveals Chen's varying levels of consideration as he expressed his concern and positivity towards the humanity through an expressive integration of form and theme.
An overview of Chen's surviving works would reveal the importance of landscape in his artistic career. With a synthesis of the Eastern and Western ideals, blending with his personal inner spirit, the artist created a new form of landscape through his recreation of the humanistic landscape. Chen did not merely borrow from the West in Sin-Lau Girls School, Taiwan; but also celebrated the national culture as he dealt with the topics of tradition and modernity within creative process, and the clash and co-existence of local traditions with foreign intrusion etc. Within the process, he created work that carries his strong affection towards land, nature and lifestyle. Landscape paintings have been elevated from the level of mere imitation and recreation. Created in the unique background of Taiwan at the time, the work is a reflection and response of the artist towards issues of society, cultures and environment.
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated in Chinese (lower left)
Cheng-Po Chen , 20th Century, Paintings, canvas, oil, Taiwan, Modern, architectural
Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwan Education Hall, The Fourth Taiwan Viceroy Art Exhibition, 24 October-5 November 1941.
ASIAN 20TH CENTURY & CONTEMPORARY ART
91 x 115.8 cm. (35 7/8 x 45 1/2 in.)
Tzuen Tsae International Art Co. Ltd., Chen Cheng-Po & Chen Bih-Neu Memorial Exhibition, Taipei, Taiwan, 1997 (illustrated, p. 25).
Hsiung-Shih Art Book Co. Ltd., The Home-Museum: Collected Paintings of the Older Generation of Artists: The Enthusiasm of Chen Cheng Po, Taipei, Taiwan, 2000 (illustrated, plate 3-49, p. 131).
Tzen Tsae International Art Co. Ltd., Art Treasures Collection 4: Chen Cheng-Po, Taipei, Taiwan, 2005 (illustrated, plate 1, p. 96).
Liang Gallery, Dazzling Through A History: Chen Cheng-Po & Liao Chi Chun Art Treasures Collection, Taipei, Taiwan, 2010 (illustrated, p. 129).