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Mild Winter at Mt. Jade



1934, 畫布油彩, 38×45cm

oil on canvas





    The white snow blanketing the high mountain peaks hints at the approach of winter, but Chiayi is still bathed in warm sunlight. Sunshine streaming in from behind the wall casts a long shadow across the courtyard, where two people enjoy the balmy weather, their faces baked red from the sun. An atmosphere of carefree relaxation characterizes this scene.






    Nearly all of Chen Cheng-po’s paintings of his hometown Chiayi radiate warmth. What colors and impressions come to mind when you think of your own hometown?






Electric poles





    The Chiayi Lighting Corporation opened its doors in 1913 following the introduction of the technology and equipment necessary to generate electricity. That same year, Chen moved north to continue his studies. When he returned to Chiayi, he must have been quite surprised to see electric poles lining the city streets. Perhaps his astonishment at the changes in his hometown landscape is what led him to take an interest in these novelties, which became a recurrent motif in his paintings.





Mt. Jade and Chiayi





    In a 1935 article entitled “Chiayi and Art,” Chen wrote enthusiastically of the joy experienced by local residents at the sight of the mountain: “Each morning, Mt. Jade greets Grandfather Sun with a smile and we, the people of Chiayi, wake up to this stunning sight. How blessed we are!”





The color of snow





    Each year, snow begins to fall on Mt. Jade around November or December. The mountaintop remains snow-covered for the following three to four months, and its appearance constantly changes depending on variations in the thickness of the snow. Mt. Jade takes on different hues in Chen’s works as well, reflecting these same changes in seasonal and atmospheric conditions.





Shadows as indication of time





    Details within a painting can provide contextual clues as to the space and time in which it was created. In Mild Winter at Mt. Jade, shadows cast by the wall, figures, and trees all slant down to the lower left corner. From this detail, we know that the sun must be behind the tree to the right, rising above the mountains east of Chiayi. Therefore, Chen painted this work in the morning.





Chen’s signatures





    Chen used slightly different signatures throughout the decades. He signed this painting using Chinese characters, but in earlier works, he sometimes used the Romanized spelling of his name as pronounced in Japanese or Taiwanese. At other times he signed his paintings CTH, the abbreviation for the Romanized form of his name as pronounced in Japanese, with the three letters stacked one on the other and configured in a creative design.





Painting dimensions





    In early 1935, Chen published a newspaper editorial criticizing certain Taiwanese artists who, wanting to imitate their Japanese peers and win acclaim at fine arts exhibitions, created large-scale pieces which were unfortunately lacking in quality. In his opinion, the best art was not necessarily the largest. As long as an artwork conveyed the craftsmanship and personality of the artist, even if it were a painting as small as Mild Winter at Mt. Jade, it was a success.