Outside Chiayi Street (3)



1927, 畫布油彩, 52×65cm

oil on canvas





    A shallow irrigation canal leads to a street, farther along and at the edge of which the upturned arc of a temple roof punctuates the sky. A year prior to the completion of this painting, Chen Cheng-po’s masterpiece depicting the same scene was selected for the Imperial Exhibition and introduced his hometown to Japanese art aficionados. In comparison with the earlier work, this painting reflects the influence of modernization, the landscape visibly more neat and orderly. Perhaps gazing at the streets of Chiayi from a distance, Chen chose once more to paint this scene in order to leave a record of the transformations underway in his beloved city. 






Outside Chiayi Street: the four paintings





    The vista pictured in this painting is strikingly similar to that in Chen’s 1926 work of the same name, his first to be selected for the Imperial Exhibition. The only apparent difference is a slight shift backwards in vantage point. At present, there are four known works by Chen which depict this same streetscape and all are painted from roughly the same perspective. Appearing over and over in his works, this scene must have held special sentimental significance for the painter.









Left: Outside Chiayi Street (1), 1926, oil on canvas, #40

Middle: Outside Chiayi Street (2), 1927, oil on canvas, 65 x 53.4 cm

Right: Outside Chiayi Street (4), 1928, oil on canvas, 15.7 x 22.7 cm







At the juncture of city and countryside





    The perfectly straight roadway, irrigation canal, and electric poles—all suggest that this lane has been modernized and transformed into the urban space. Yet, during the late 1920s, this area was still well within the outwardly expanding periphery of the city. Perhaps the intended motif of this painting was just that—a landscape situated at the boundary between nature and civilization. 





Streetscape painting





    During the Meiji era, one-point perspective compositions featuring roadways as principal subjects came into vogue among Japanese art circles. In fact, Ishikawa Kinichiro, the instructor who first sparked Chen’s interest in painting, was adept at using this technique. Positioning a roadway along a painting’s central axis provides the painter with a convenient path along which to depict the unique features of the local landscape and to guide the viewer’s gaze into the painting.   





Chen Cheng-po’s residences in Chiayi





    When Chen painted this work, he was living nearby at Plot 739, Ximen Outer Street. However, as indicated by letters discovered among his personal belongings, he changed residences in 1933 and began using a different mailing address. His later home was located not far behind the Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, at Plot 125, District 2, Ximen Ward.







    These postcards document a change in Chen’s mailing address. The address on the postcard dated June 1933 is different from that on the New Year’s card dated January 1931.







Photo (left): LE2_021, 1931.1.1, a postcard Chen received from Lin Yi-jie.

Photo (right): LE2_030, 1933.6.9, a postcard Chen received from Akashi Keizo.





5. 溫陵媽祖廟

The Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess (Matsu)





    One of the most distinctly Taiwanese elements of this scene is the temple’s roof with its ridges sweeping elegantly upward like swallowtails. Built in honor of the deity Matsu, this temple was located not far from Chen’s home and served as the backdrop for many of his fondest childhood memories. When he was still a boy, in 1906, a powerful earthquake destroyed the temple. After it was finally rebuilt in 1923, he painted this portrait of its new façade.







    The Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, post-reconstruction, serves as the main subject of this 1927 painting by Chen, who took great care to depict the details of the edifice’s external ornamentation.

Temple of Wenling Sea Goddess (Matsu), 1927, oil on canvas, 91 x 116.5 cm






Irrigation cana





    Today, the road in the painting’s background is known as Guohua Street, and the irrigation canal in front now flows underground. According to old maps, the waterway must have been a branch of the Dao-jiang Irrigation Canal. In the 1920s, the old Dao-Jiang canal was dredged using modern equipment. It continued to provide water for irrigation to the neighboring agricultural fields, but was realigned to become the straight and orderly canal depicted in Chen’s canvas.







    By studying this 1931 Chiayi Street Survey Map, we can roughly estimate the spot on which Chen’s home stood, at Plot 125, District 2, Ximen Ward. Walking southward from this point, one would first pass the Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, indicated on the map by a temple symbol, and then the renovated yet still aboveground irrigation canal.

Chiayi Street Survey Map (1931), taken from Taiwan’s 100 Years of History in Maps, published by the Center for GIS at Academia Sinica. 






Dormitories for Bank of Taiwan employees





    The houses behind the red wall to the right of the canal are most likely dormitories for employees of the Bank of Taiwan, constructed around 1910. During the Japanese colonial era, the bank built Japanese-style dormitories for employees in towns and cities across Taiwan. Today, many of these have been preserved as historic sites, but those in Chiayi were demolished more than a decade ago by the municipal government.