The Natural and Fun – Commemorating the 140th Anniversary of Chen Banding’s Birth unveiled in NAMOC
At 10 a.m. of November 11, 2016, The Natural and Fun – Commemorating the 140th Anniversary of Chen Banding’s Birth (True Joy Inside Here—Art Exhibition in Memory of Chen Banding’s 140th Birthday was inaugurated in the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC). This national reward project for fine art works collection and donation was sponsored by NAMOC, Beijing Painting Academy and Central Research Institute of Culture and History. It was co-organized by Shaoxing Municipal Government, Fine Arts Research Institute of Chinese National Academy of Arts, and Chen Banding Memorial Hall. The exhibition showcased 180 pieces of Chen’s masterpieces in the categories of flower painting, feather painting, figure painting, landscape painting, calligraphy and seal cutting. They systematically displayed the artistic lineage of Chen, highlighting his outstanding achievements in inheriting the Chinese artistic tradition.
NAMOC curator Wu Weishan said that in the Chinese history of painting in the 20th century, there was such an old man, who was addicted to painting and calligraphy, and never stopped working with his painting brush in all his life. He lived through late Qing period and the Republic of China period, masterly in “putting ancient things to use”. He also made bold explorations after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. He founded an art academy,had the courage to take responsibility,held high the great banner of painting with national tradition, and racked his brains for the sustainable development of the Beijing painting circle. In his 94 years of life, he took art as his lifework, and reflected the new trends of the era in great earnestness. He was Chen Banding, equally famous with Qi Baishi during his lifetime, and buried in the oblivion after death.
Chen was a native of Shanyin of Zhejiang province (Shaoxing today). From a child, he studied poems, essays, calligraphy and painting. In his early years, he made a living in Shanghai, and learned after Wu Changshuo. In this period, he was also guided by Ren Bonian and Pu Hua, famous artists of the Shanghai School. He hence gained a solid foundation in traditional painting. As shown in the extant works of Chen in his early years, we may see the influence of the Shanghai School over his styles in calligraphy, painting and seal cutting works. In 1906, Chen came to Beijing under the invitation of Jin Cheng. He sowed the seeds of the Shanghai School art in the Beijing art circles, and read extensively here to trace the artistic source up to the famous artists of the Ming and Qing dynasties. He established his personal artistic characteristics through learning from the past, and cemented his status as a representative figure in the Beijing School and the painting circles of Beijing and Tianjin. After liberation in 1949, Chen invested all his energy in the development of literature and art of New China. He was ready to shoulder responsibility and appealed for inheriting the tradition of Chinese painting. He went around campaigning for the establishment of traditional Chinese painting institutions. He enjoyed high prestige in the art circles in Beijing and the country.
This exhibition focused on the theme of Chen’s seal stamp, the natural and fun, to highlight his loyal heart to art, and his persistence in the road of seeking artistic truth. The first part of the exhibition, Exist between Heaven and Earth, was an overview of Chen’s artistic achievements. It presented the artistic quintessence of Chen in the decades, from the outset of studying arts to becoming great master in the 1950s and 1960s. The huge Chinese paintings, including All Flowers Bloom, demonstrated his lofty aspiration and quality as a leading figure of the Beijing art circle in the mid 20th century. The second part, Alike in Spirit, was separated into two chapters, which were “Flowers: Spirit of Flowers and Plants” and “Feathers: Model after the Ordinary”. They put on display Chen’s artistic merits in flower and feather paintings. As a great master of traditional Chinese painting, Chen was best known for freehand brushwork of flowers. His paintings featured vigorous, embellished brushstrokes, deep hues, refined images, and well-regulated compositions. They were organically balanced in the taste of literati brushwork, personal artistic pursuit, and aesthetic fashion of the time, suiting both refined and popular tastes. The third part, Voiceless Sound in Landscapes, comprised the “Landscape Chapter: Rivers and Mountains under Painting Brush”, and the “Figure Chapter: Content with the Lot.” They exhibited Chen’s artistic creation of ancient flavor. Chen was a master-hand in using ancient techniques. He dug into the traditional techniques in creating landscape and figure paintings. His works passed on the artistic conceptions of traditional Chinese painting. Part four, Unique in Style, was divided into the “Calligraphy Chapter: Play with Writing Brush, and the “Seal Cutting Chapter: Unyielding Seals”. They displayed Chen’s artistic accomplishments beyond painting, in calligraphy and seal cutting. Part five， Pure and Lofty Family Tradition, was a chronological table of Chen’s artistic career, illustrated with pictures and essays. The headlines of the exhibition were largely taken from the seal scripts of Chen’s, enabling audiences to keep dialogue with him in the course of appreciating his calligraphy, painting and seal cutting works. Led by Chen himself, audiences will be able to penetrate into his extensive, profound world of art, and uncover the continuation and development of Chinese traditional art at the present times in the confluence of the ancient and modern.
As the exhibition was held, Chen’s family donated a batch of Chen’s artistic works to the country. They will be put in NAMOC for permanent collection. The donated works included flower paintings that incarnated great achievements of Chen, as well as landscape paintings and calligraphy works showing his artistic merits in various ways. It was precious in particular that Chen’s handwritten autobiography and his letters to his twin brother were also among the donation. They were great historical value, academic value and artistic value, carrying about the feelings of the artist and the flavor of the time.