‘Reclusive’ artist of impressionist painting

When artist Chen Junde (1931-2019) made his last painting “Forget-me-not”, he surprised viewers with his use of brilliant hues of blooming petals and warm sunshine, especially given his condition. of extremely precarious health.

“The Art and Literature of Chen Junde: A Painter of Modernity”, an exhibition on display at the Liu Haisu Art Museum until October 7, offers a retrospective view of this “master of colors”.

In 2017, Chen’s first solo exhibition was held at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing despite the fact that he was already recognized as one of the best impressionist painters in China. Chen, who was 80 at the time, knew it would be his first, and also his last solo show. However, he did not give up painting during his remaining days.

Courtesy of Liu Haisu Art Museum

A self-portrait of Chen Junde in 1963

Visitors to the exhibition will find his words written on the back of the “Forget-me-not” canvas created in 2018: “What prompted a body with a serious illness to paint? asked, just the passion for art. Yes, I ‘burned’ my life with art until it died out. “

As one of China’s most important oil painters and educators, Chen preferred to keep a low profile and was considered a “lonely artist.”

The exhibition features a collection of his Impressionist paintings from different periods, along with related materials and images, providing a panoramic view of the veteran artist.

It is rare that four exhibition halls in the Liu Haisu Art Museum are all dedicated to one artist, reflecting Chen’s steadfast academic status in the art community.

Born in Shanghai in 1937, Chen graduated from the Shanghai Drama Academy in 1960 and was mentored by Yan Wenliang (1893-1988) and Min Xiwen, 103, two big names in modern art history. Chinese.

The exhibition includes not only several paintings by his teachers, but also letters they wrote to him.

It is interesting to find works created by Yan and Chen with the same subject, like “The Bund”, but with different styles.

In addition to his academy teachers, Chen tried to learn from other Chinese masters, including Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), Liu Haisu (1896-1994) and Guan Liang (1900-1986), all masters of Chinese modern art.

The exhibition presents the connection between Chen and these masters.

In the 1960s, Chen visited Lin, who was living alone on Nanchang Road. Chen brought oil paintings with him, and Lin told him to paint flexibly and freely. He even broke a plaster figurine in front of him to remind the young man that “art must leave the imagination to the spectators”. Lin once gave Chen a painting, which he unfortunately lost after moving several times.

But viewers can still see Lin’s strong influence on Chen’s canvas titled “The River in My Hometown” created in 1980, referencing the preferred earthy tone Lin would adopt, which might be a special respect for his teacher. .

Another highlight is two side-by-side canvases created by Liu and Chen under the same title – “Fuxing Park”.

In fact, both paintings were created at the same time and in the same place – at Fuxing Park in 1977.

'Reclusive' artist of impressionist painting

Courtesy of Liu Haisu Art Museum

“Fuxing Park after a fresh snow” by Chen Junde, oil on canvas, 1977

Chen once recalled, “It was not the painting technique that I learned from these masters, but rather their enthusiasm for the art and their moral position.

Unlike elders in the art community, Chen came of age when Socialist Realism was the dominant style of painting. While his peers were busy mastering the Russian style, Chen followed his heart, leaning over books on Impressionism.

He read French literature and coveted Impressionist paintings during the dark days of the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-76).

He believed in the saying of Ilya Repin (1844-1930) that no master had ever graduated from an art academy, so he was completely fed up when his teachers gave him so many line drawings and portraits. He wondered why they stuck to the Russian style, since Slavic culture is so different from Chinese culture.

The romantic world of Impressionism captured his imagination with a world filled with light, shadow and softness.

In the late 1980s, Chen rose to fame in Hong Kong, and one of his paintings sold for around US $ 100,000. In 1999, the French government invited him to spend six months in Paris.

With Vincent van Gogh, he had a revelation: “I thought I knew his studio, this sunny and neat piece of his paintings. The actual room, however, was dark and damp. It was when I saw the play that I realized that van Gogh was painting the sun in his heart. “

Rich colors and wild lines bring out the weighty qualities under his brush. Whether it’s flowers, the old French concession, or the southern Chinese scene, Montmartre and nudes all share a strong and unique artistic style that belongs only to Chen.

'Reclusive' artist of impressionist painting

Courtesy of Liu Haisu Art Museum

“The Street Where There Was a Bronze Statue of Pushkin” by Chen Junde, oil on canvas, 1977

Exhibition information

Dates: Until October 7 (closed Mondays), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: Liu Haisu Art Museum

Address: 1609 Yan’an Road West.

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