Chen Cheng-Po (Chen Chengbo)
- Chen Cheng-Po (Chen Chengbo)
- Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves)
- signed in Chinese and dated 1939
- oil on canvas
- 91.3 by 117.2 cm.; 36 by 46 1/8 in.
Taipei, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Chen Cheng-po Centennial Memorial Exhibition, 6 August - 31 October 1994, p. 78
Taipei, Goethe Art Centre, National Treasures: A Century of Oil Painting, 2004, p. 26
Taipei, Liang Gallery, Art Treasures Four, January 2005, p. 79
Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Nostalgia in the Vast Universe: Commemorative Exhibition of Chen Cheng-po, 22 October 2011 - 28 February 2012, pl. 62, pp. 118-119
Chen Cheng Po - Taiwan Fine Arts Series 1, Artist Co. Ltd., Taipei, 1992, pp. 134, 240
Family Art Museum-Ancestor Art Collection, Colour, Passion: Chen Chengbo, Lion Head Publishing Company Ltd., Taipei, 2000, p. 105
Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves)
Following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was separated from the domain of the Qing Dynasty and reduced to a Japanese colony. Born that year, Chen Cheng-Po was no longer a subject of the Qing; he was now one of the colonized, and his life was fatefully connected to the historic upheaval in Taiwan. Although he studied in Japan in his youth and later taught in Shanghai, Chen ultimately decided to return to Taiwan, and he dedicated the entirety of his artistic endeavours to the island that he ardently loved. He explored every inch of its countryside and cities, and its various landscapes became the fuel of his creativity. Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves)（Lot 1011）, completed in 1939, is a rare and magnificent example of a pure seascape by the artist.
Maobitou, located in Taiwan's Pingtung County, is in fact a coral reef that descends from a sea cliff in the shape of a crouching cat—a physiography that earned it's name as "Cat's Nose Cape." Located at the southern tip of Taiwan, Maobitou has the terrain of a typical tropical coral reef. Over the course of time, it has been eroded by waves and the uncanny workmanship of nature has yielded peculiar rock formations. Chen Cheng-Po chose to paint Maobitou because he felt that the local geography provided a particularly suitable landscape. In his rendering, the artist focuses on the seaside rocks, submerged reefs and turbulent waves—all rare subjects for Chen. Blue and brown are the principle colours in the painting, not Chen's favoured combination of red and green, and there are no structures or luxuriant forests, which are other mainstays of the artist's style. Chen was evidently in full command of his artistry following his return from Shanghai in 1933, and he felt comfortable facing any sort of challenge on the canvas.
Waves are the visual focal point of Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves). Taiwan's east coast is rocky and its west coast is sandy; Maobitou lies at the southern meeting-point of the two topographies. As massive waves crash against the cliff-side reefs, residual seawater eddies through winding pools amid the craggy rocks before gradually vanishing back into the tide. The artist uses a variety of blue hues to depict the magnificence of the sea receding into the distance, adding embellishments of white oil paint to skilfully craft the shimmering waves. As a result, the great billows genuinely seem to rush toward the rocky dark-brown cliffs in the foreground. Chen's heavily layered brushstrokes create textures that lend a powerful dynamism to the entire canvas. His mastery of Western painting techniques allows him to successfully create an aesthetic of rising and falling waves to the extent that a viewer enjoying this painting can almost hear them dash violently against the rocky shore. This is why Chen also gave Maobitou Cape a subtitle: The Sound of the Waves.
The leaves and branches of the trees on the left side of the canvas are sparse, a deliberate move by the artist that shifts the emphasis from the green foliage to the dark brown-grey tree trunks. The seaside trees of Maobitou are neither large nor tall, but daily assaults of wind and water have made them hardy and resilient. During his teaching tenure in Shanghai, Chen became familiar with the traditional Chinese ink wash painting techniques of heavy single brushstrokes and "double hook" shading. In Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves), he uses rubbing strokes and fei bai technique to portray the unyielding tree trunks. Though he employs simple and free brushwork to depict the other seaside vegetation, his bold use of colour lends a lush visual effect to the green grass.
During his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts, Chen Cheng-Po received rigorous training in the academic orthodoxies of Western painting. He was particularly captivated by the impressionist master Vincent van Gogh, who he cited as a tremendous influence on his brushwork in an interview in the autumn of 1934. In The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, van Gogh's brushstrokes are rapidly interwoven. Pure whites and yellows ornament the blue water and imbue the tableau with a sense of movement. The painting is heavy with coarse brushstrokes that indirectly influenced Chen Cheng-Po's style. However, the brushwork in Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves) is not completely transplanted from impressionism. In his own recent evolution as an artist, he increasingly drew on his lifelong education in traditional Chinese painting. In addition to incorporating the line and dry-brush scraping techniques of the Yuan painter Ni Zan and the Qing painter Bada Shanren, Chen also adhered to the emphasis on self-restraint in the tradition of amateur literati painting. A tridition that he was exposed to by his father, a xiucai scholar of the Qing. In this fashion, Chen expresses his spiritual character on the canvas.
Chen once said, "There is no delight in a rational and expository portrayal of objects. Even if it is well done, it lacks the great power to stir the heart. To paint purely from feeling provides a better result". In Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves), the artist's brushstrokes, use of colour, and composition all express his personal understanding and philosophy of life. The painting is purely a depiction of nature—except for the fisherman wearing a bamboo hat who stands perfectly still at the centre of the canvas, enjoying a moment of solitude amid the surging waves. The historical context of 1939 may have also influenced this aspect of Chen's painting. The second World War was spreading throughout the four corners of the world, and smouldering hostilities between China and Japan had erupted into full-fledged war, leading to government suppression of Taiwanese cultural circles. The silhouetted fisherman in Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves) is cool and isolated, likely reflecting the painter's own mood at the time. Chen had devoted his life to diligent study in hopes of contributing to his homeland, but he was born at an inopportune time, and his inner detachment is evident. However, Taiwan's splendid sunny days filled Chen with endless energy, and the deeply rooted Chinese cultural heritage in Taiwan's soil provided him with a spiritual homeland. Nature never let him down or quenched his prolific creativity. The hot and humid climate of Chen's hometown, the southern Taiwanese town of Chiayi, contributed to the intense and vibrant use of colour for which his paintings became famous. The seascape portrayed in Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves) reflects the scorching, humid, sticky heat of the southern Taiwanese summer. The Taiwanese are island people who attach great importance to the sea, and the ebb and flow of the great tides remind them of the cyclical and fleeting nature of human affairs. The azure sea in Chen's painting surges like the rising sun, praising and exalting the courage, ardour, and sanguinity of the island's people.
In 1939, Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves) was selected for inclusion in the second Sotofoku Exhibition, an art show planned by the Japanese colonial government, giving Chen Cheng-Po ample reason to be proud of his work. Like another of Chen's paintings also featured in this Sotheby's auction, Chia-Yi Park (Lot 1007), Maobitou Cape (The Sound of the Waves) was completed during the artist's mature period, and both number among his major works. Chen worked hard throughout his life in the hopes of not disappointing his family and community, using his art faithfully to record each tree and blade of grass of his beloved homeland. The patriotic painter Wu Guanzhong once said, "the kite shall never desert its line", metaphorically describing the undying connection between his art and his feelings for his fellow countrymen—a sentiment with which Chen Cheng-Po would certainly have agreed. Chen was the Western-style painter with the most national consciousness of his time, and he strove to paint Taiwan's history onto his canvases. Although his life was cut tragically short, he believed that the future of his homeland of Formosa, like the sun whose daily appearance he portrayed in his paintings, would shine in perpetuity.