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Mt. Jade from Afar



1927, 畫布油彩, 37.5×44.5cm

oil on canvas





    As if freshly squeezed out of a paint tube, thick squiggles and glossy whorls of color animate the grassy slope and add a lively depth to the leafy thicket of trees behind. Frenetic brushstrokes flood the foreground with movement and vitality. Beyond the trees and green rolling hills, up where the hawks glide, a chain of mountains rises majestically in the distance. Painted in a flatter, smoother style, the brilliant snow-capped peaks of Mt. Jade evoke a sense of deep serenity.






    Looking eastward from the outskirts of Chiayi, Chen Cheng-po carefully arranged the vast expanse before his eyes—landscapes near and far—into a single exquisite composition.






Familiar figures with parasols





    The figures that dot this painting are indistinctly rendered with simple brush strokes and dabs of color. Even so, those familiar with Chen’s landscapes will recognize them right away as the iconic figures which often appear in his other works: ladies shading themselves with parasols. The use of parasols was a hallmark of modern, civilized life and, as a motif, the parasols in this painting accentuate the southern, sub-tropical setting.





Electric poles and Alishan Mountain





    Wooden electric poles stand in close proximity along the green grassy slope; in the center of the canvas, one pole leans distinctly askew, capturing the viewer’s eye. During the Japanese era, the colonial government brought Japanese red cedar trees to the island and set up forestry centers in the Alishan mountain region, depicted in this painting’s background. With their perfectly straight trunks, red cedar trees became a standard building material for electric poles in Taiwan. 





On the edge of the city





    Selected in 1926 for the Imperial Exhibition, Outside Chiayi Street (1) portrays the scenic borderline between city and countryside. Mt. Jade from Afar may have been inspired by a similar interest in the urban-rural dividing line. Electric poles and cement walls protrude conspicuously from a sea of lush natural greenery, signifying the expanding influence of modern civilization on the rural outskirts of the city.





Mount Jade





    Among Chen’s surviving paintings, this may have been the earliest to showcase the snow-capped peaks of Mount Jade. Gazing out at this distant snow-lined mountain range is a shared experience among all Chiayi residents, past and present. In this painting, Chen shares with the viewer this impressive sight of the countryside near his hometown and the mountains beyond.





Ou-yang Wen





    Chen completed this oil painting early in his career and gave it to an artist under his tutelage named Ou-yang Wen. In 1950, during the period of White Terror, Ou-yang was arrested on trumped-up charges and thrown into prison. As for the painting, it was confiscated by military police and later thrown out into the street. It is thanks to Ou-yang’s wife, Lin Cui-xia, who retrieved and stored the painting with care, that it can still be enjoyed by art enthusiasts today.





Impasto: a painting technique




    Chen used thick layers of paint to give rich texture to trees, figures, and electric poles, producing a three-dimensionality which spans the entire foreground. This technique, known as impasto, calls to mind the work of Vincent van Gogh, an artist whom Chen greatly admired. Both artists used the impasto technique within several of their works, with brushstrokes visibly dancing across the canvas and contours awhirl.





Bird in flight




     Rendered in simple brushstrokes, a dark bird glides through the pale green sky, accentuating the distant white caps of Mt. Jade. Chen often added this motif in the skyline of his landscapes to enhance the sense of breadth and stillness in the boundless horizon.