Asian Art News
By Lucy Birmingham
"Chen Chin at The Shoto Museum of Art"
With Japan’s checkered history of Imperial rule now hotly debated in political arenas in China and Korea, it is easy to remember that Taiwan was also a Japanese colony between 1895 and 1945, a prize won as part of Japan’s conquests in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War. Practically overnight, modern comprehensive Japanese education became the forefront of the Imperial colonization policy. New subjects like drawing and nihonga (Japanese style gouache) painting greatly influenced a new generation of Taiwanese artists taught under selected Japanese teachers from the “mainland.” One of the most outstanding and successful of these nihonga artists was Chen Chin (1907-1998), born 12-years after the start of the Japanese occupation.
Now for the first time, with cultural tensions between China, Taiwan and Japan recently easing, a retrospective of her work will be shown in Japan. Titled “Centennial Celebration of Chen Chin” in honor of this year’s 100th anniversary of her birth, this show is the first major solo exhibition of a Taiwanese artist to tour in Japan. Organized as a cooperative effort between the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and The Japan Association of Art Museum, the comprehensive exhibition including recently discovered works, and previously unpublished sketches and diagrams will show at The Shoto Museum of Art (April 5-May 14), the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (June 3-July 23) and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (July 30-September 10).
As a woman, nihonga-style artist blending classic Japanese painting techniques, Chinese traditional dress and theme, rich Taiwanese tropical coloring and Western portraiture, Chen was not only a pioneer of her generation, but one of the first cultural diplomats of her time. She was the first Taiwanese female student to enroll in a Tokyo art school and maintained her close relationship with Japan with periods of study and residence throughout her long life. Beautiful portraits of women and children from the upper class reveal portions of her life amidst her wealthy family. “Mother and Son” (1995) painted just three years before her death at the age of 91 reflects a deeper emotional warmth from much of her early work. Highlighted by her classic expressive coloring with an intriguing mix of modern and traditional details in dress, hair and furniture design, it is easy to feel the lovely parent-child bond.
An unusual portrait of an infant suckling their mother's breast titled "Maternal Love" (1984) further exemplifies the depth of intimacy in her work. Landscape, temple and city scenes within Taiwan, Japan and during travels abroad, reflect her interest in things both traditional and foreign. Flowers, mostly orchids, were also a favorite theme. The many photographs of Chen and the accompanying text adds interest and historical depth to the show. One comes to understand not only the hard-working, highly accomplished artist, but the woman — her willful determination, strength, discipline and love of beauty amidst a world in turbulent times.