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Tropic of Cancer Landmark


1924, 畫布油彩, 45×33cm

oil on canvas




    While on summer vacation from his studies in Japan, Chen Cheng-po returned to Chiayi and visited the Tropic of Cancer monument just outside the city. The structure which he had depicted with watercolors a few years earlier had been torn down and a brand-new structure stood in its place. Chen decided to take on this new man-made marvel with a different medium: oil paint. Like David taking aim with his slingshot at Goliath, the artist peered up at the giant landmark and considered how best to use the paints in his paint box to subdue his adversary.






The third monument





    In 1923, Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito, who would become emperor two years later, paid an official visit to the empire’s colony of Taiwan. In preparation for this grand occasion, the Governor-General’s Office reconstructed the Tropic of Cancer monument out of stone. This third monument remained unchanged until 1935, when it was renovated for the exposition commemorating the 40th anniversary of Japanese rule.





The sphere at the top





    The most distinctive element of this commemorative landmark was the sphere on top. Since the monument was constructed for the imperial visit, this sphere was perhaps suggestive of the crimson Hinomaru, or “circle of the sun,” at the center of Japan’s national flag. In old photographs of the monument, the sphere appears to be much smaller than in Chen’s painting, so the artist may have indulged in a bit of artistic embellishment.





Depiction of the monument





    According to old photographs, the third monument bore one inscription reading “Tropic of Cancer Monument” and another indicating the site’s geographic coordinates as measured during the reconstruction. However, just as he did in his previous watercolor, Chen omitted these details. We can discover several other interesting discrepancies by comparing the proportions of the monument in the painting with those in old photographs.






    A postcard from Chen’s collection which features a photograph of the third Tropic of Cancer Landmark. Toward the bottom of the tablet, two neat rows of small characters clearly denote the site’s geographic coordinates, 23°27’4”51 N 120°24’46”5 E. Interestingly, the monument as pictured in this photograph was a three-sided structure, but Chen’s painting does not accurately represent its three-dimensional form. Furthermore, the size of the sphere atop the monument seems to have been magnified in the painting.





Oil painting





    After matriculating in 1924 at the Tokyo Fine Arts School, Chen’s artistic expression gradually began to shift from watercolor to oil painting. This landscape is from the period when he was still learning how to work with the new medium. In comparison with his earlier watercolor which depicts the second monument, this work is much more vibrant. The oil paint creates much fuller, richer colors, which bring out the somber quality of the blue-gray sky and the lushness of the green grass and trees. 










    Chen adopted several different signatures throughout his artistic career. In the lower righthand corner of this painting, he signed his name using a configuration of the three Roman letters, CTH, superimposed one on top of the other. This is an abbreviation for the Romanized form of his name as pronounced in Japanese, Chin Tou Ha. Such a unique signature clearly reflects Chen’s desire to create an emblem as original as his work.





X-ray examination





    X-ray imaging has been an enormous boon for art historians. With this technology, researchers can uncover the story hidden beneath layers of oil paint. For example, the x-ray image of this painting reveals that Chen modified its top half. If he had painted the clouds and sky according to his original design, what would this painting look like? 






(嘉義) 北回歸線標塔 (嘉義より三哩)



A scenic postcard of the third Tropic of Cancer Landmark which reveals its immense proportions as compared with those of the two people standing nearby.

(Chiayi) Tropic of Cancer Landmark, 3 miles from Chiayi

NTU Digital Repository of Japanese Era Postcards ntul-tm-ntuv02005_001






1昭和五年版 嘉義郡概況,頁6-7。

Survey of Chiayi County, 5th year of Showa’s reign edition (1930), p. 6-7. 

昭和5年版 嘉義郡概況,p.6-7