- Chang Shuhong
- Artist's Family after the Bombing in Chungking
- signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed in Pinyin and Chinese and titled on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 79 by 63.8 cm.; 31 1/8 by 25 1/8 in.
Chang Shuhong Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking
In Chinese art history, Chang Shuhong is a remarkable personage whose accomplishments have spanned across painting, archaeology, and parenting. In 1920, Chang joined Feng Zikai's West Lake Painting Association, and between 1927 and 1936, he lived abroad in Paris and Lyon, where he studied in Académie des Beaux-Art and the studio of the neo-classicist master Paul Albert Laurens. Chang's meticulous skill in realism won him first prize at the graduate's exhibition of Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Lyon as well as first prize from Laurens's studio; he also won three gold medals and two silver medals at salons in Paris and Lyon. The Pompidou Centre in Paris and Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Lyon have both collected Chang's works.
During his time in Paris, in addition to his intensive study of Western painting, Chang Shuhong was inspired by the Dunhuang manuscripts discovered by Paul Pelliot. After returning to China, he worked together with Zhang Daqian, Liang Sicheng, Xu Beihong, and others to organize the Dunhuang Art Institute (presently Dunhuang Academy), and in 1944, he became the institute's director. Chang devoted the next four decades of his life to preserving and researching the historical remains of the caves, winning international regard for the field of Dunhuang Studies and earning himself the moniker of "the patron saint of Dunhuang." In his later years, he visited Japan on many occasions. He was appointed a visiting professor at Tokyo University of the Arts and painted religious frescoes for the Natsume Temple in Tokyo and Horyu Temple in Nara. In 1990, Soka University awarded him an honorary doctorate, and in 1992, Tokyo Fuji Art Museum gave Chang its highest commendation and named him an honorary director. His memoir, Ninety Springs and Autumns—Fifty Years at Dunhuang, is an important reference work of Chinese modern art and Dunhuang studies. Due to his devotion to archaeology and parenting, Chang's existing oil paintings are limited in number. Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking（Lot 1004）, featured in this auction, is an early masterpiece that was chosen to represent China at an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art during the Second World War, and it possesses extraordinary historical significance.
A Magnum Opus by the Patron Saint of Dunhuang
Chang Shuhong painted Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking sometime between 1938 and 1942—after his return to China but before he took up his post at Dunhuang. Chang had taken up residence in the secondary capital of Chongqing (Chungking) in order to avoid the war. The conflict between China and Japan had reached an impasse; half of the country had fallen into enemy hands, but the Japanese had exhausted their manpower and resources. In order to pressure China into surrender, the Japanese launched a high-altitude bombing campaign on Chongqing that lasted more than five years and far surpassed the German "Blitz" on the United Kingdom of 1940-41. Chang personally witnessed the toll of war on all parties, and he used painting to document his experience. Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking shows Chang, his wife Chen Zhixiu, his daughter Chang Shana, and his son, Chang Jialing fleeing for their lives amid the bombing. The painter cradles his young son to his chest as his wife bitterly weeps at the destruction of their homeland. Their daughter is young, but appears precociously mature due to her baptism in the flames of war. She calmly stands guard over the family's paltry remaining possessions. The artist does not disguise his unexceptional plight; on the contrary, he seems anxious to use his own experience to expose the brutality of war, the cruelty of the invaders, and the helplessness of common people. The painting's authenticity and humanism are moving. In order to highlight the precariousness of life, the painter even abandons his customarily elegant use of detail; compared to Portrait de Shana, presently in the collection of the Pompidou Centre, Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking features more coarse and instinctive brushwork suggestive of a survivor's tenuous morale. Chang employs dripping and splashing techniques to intensify the scene's sense of chaos and set off the smoke-filled skies. The painter also shrewdly uses a slogan on a wall in the background—"Who destroyed our homeland?"—to directly express the purport of his painting in a brilliant finishing touch that calls to mind the tradition of inscriptions and dedications on traditional Chinese paintings.
"Fighting China": A Monument to World War II
The road of Chinese modern art was an arduous one. Ever since the final decades of the Qing Dynasty, the country had been beset with unceasing domestic troubles and foreign encroachments, but a vanguard of artists persevered in their creativity and innovations. The eruption of the War of Resistance against Japan in 1937 derailed this renaissance, and the early works of many first-generation oil painters, such as Lin Fengmian and Wu Dayu, were lost. Today, their legacies can only be reconstructed through fragments of artworks and piecemeal records. Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking is a rare survivor. On 8 December 1941, the United States formally entered the war. China, as the Asian representative of the Allied Forces, engaged in a variety of propaganda activities. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York held an exhibition titled "Fighting China" from 11-27 November 1942; subsequently, the show travelled the entire country. The 85 works by Chinese artists included in the exhibition were selected by Wendell Lewis Willkie, President Roosevelt's man in Chongqing, with the help of Chang Tao-fan, Director of the All China Fine Arts Association. The opening reception of the exhibition was attended by VIPs including Willkie and his wife; Lo-Yi Chang, the wife of China's then Foreign Minister T.V. Soong; Tsune-chi Yu, the Consul General of the Republic of China in New York; Major General Chu Shih-Ming, the Chinese military attaché stationed in Washington, D.C.; Victor A. Fediushine, Consul General of the Soviet Union in New York; and President James L. McConaughy and Vice-Chairman W.R. Herod of United China Relief. Clearly it was an event of tremendous diplomatic significance. Another weighty personage attending the event was the media tycoon Henry R. Luce, the founder of Time magazine, who was a trustee of both MoMA and United China Relief. Luce, whose father had lived in China as a missionary, was born in Shandong province and grew up in northern China. After returning to the United States, he became an important advocate of friendly Sino-American relations, and he founded United China Relief. He served as a crucial go-between for Chinese and American officials and civilian organizations in order to facilitate the successful execution of the wartime exhibition.
An original list of the included artworks reveals that block prints and watercolours made up the majority of the exhibition. There were only six oil paintings, and Chang's painting is fourth the list (the text, "CH’ANG SHU-HUNG: Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking. Oil" exactly matches the inscription on the back of the painting). Also listed with irregular Romanization are works by LU SZU-PAI, WU TSO-JEN, CHANG AN-CHIH, and others. The exhibition received widespread media attention, and the museum keeps copies of coverage in the New York Times and World-Telegram in its archives to this day.
Joining the Twentieth Century's International Anti-War Movement
In the 1930s and 40s, modern art was seen as a symbolic way for countries and societies to strive for freedom. In addition to China's resistance against Japan, Britain and France were fighting for freedom against the Nazis. Spain fought its own civil war in the 1930s, and Germans also produced their own anti-Nazi art. Works representing all of these struggles were often exhibited at MoMA. The tide of anti-war art that arose due to World War II has today become its own subject in the academic discipline of art history. In 1937, the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War caused a great number of civilian casualties. In Paris, Pablo Picasso condemned the conduct of the Fascists with a massive oil painting, Guernica. In late 1938, the brothers Zhang Shanzi and Zhang Daqian organized exhibitions in France and the United States to raise funds for the Anti-Japanese resistance. Then, in 1941, Xu Beihong returned from India to China and began selling his works in southeast China and donating the proceeds. Artist’s Family after the Bombing in Chungking, which originated in Chang Shuhong's personal experiences, awakened a keen sense of loss in his audience. Today, its borderless pathos remains deeply moving and serves to demonstrate how humanistic anti-war sentiments in both the East and the West strengthened each other from afar. In addition to the painting's rich national significance, it possesses an indelible value as part of global art history.