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Early Autumn



1942, 畫布油彩, 91×116.5cm

oil on canvas





    Geometric contours intersect and overlap in this picturesque corner of town. An assortment of architectural structures— neighborhood temples with upswept roofs, wooden homes with pitched roofs, and quaint cottages with Western allure—complement one another, creating a pleasing cadence that flows throughout this peaceful tableau. The branches of a broad-leaved tree stretch powerfully upwards and outwards, encircling the rooftops with lush green vegetation. Although autumn has already begun to set in, this southern Taiwanese scene is still bursting with vitality. Gazing out past the balustrade—past the clothes hung out to dry on the wooden rack—can’t you feel the soothing tranquility of this little world?






The artist’s vantage point





    According to his descendants, Chen Cheng-po painted this work looking southward from the balcony of his old home on Lanjing Street. To the left, the pagoda gracing the ridge of a roof likely belongs to the Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, as seen from behind. The branches and leaves shooting forth from the right are those of a longan (dragon-eye) tree planted in the back alley. Over time, Chen’s old home underwent significant changes, including the removal of the balcony and its balustrade which is depicted in this painting.





Two sketches





    Within Chen’s extant sketchbooks, there are two pencil sketches which pertain to Early Autumn. One of these portrays a woman, likely his wife Chang Jie, holding a child in her arms, looking out over the balustrade, while the other is the preliminary sketch for this work. Upon close examination and comparison with the final painting, these sketches reveal that Chen made certain modifications with respect to the scene’s spatial configurations.




人物速寫(172)-SB30(40.10-41.7) 約1940-1941   紙本鉛筆  36.5×26.3cm

Figures sketch-SB30(40.10-41.7) ca. 1940-1941   Pencil on paper   36.5×26.3cm

人物のスケッチ(172)-SB30(40.10-41.7) 1940-1941頃 紙、鉛筆 36.5×26.3cm


風景速寫(202)-SB30(40.10-41.7)約1940-1941   紙本鉛筆  36.5×26.3cm

Landscape sketch-SB30(40.10-41.7) ca. 1940-1941   Pencil on paper   36.5×26.3cm

 風景のスケッチ(202)-SB30(40.10-41.7) 1940-1941頃 紙、鉛筆 36.5×26.3cm



Title of painting





    During the Japanese colonial period, Early Autumn was a common title among the works on display at government-hosted fine arts exhibitions. Artists such as Lee Tze-Fan, Liao Chi-chun, and Yang San-lang all exhibited early autumn landscapes, but each artist portrayed the season in a unique light. Studying these works, what similarities and differences catch your eye?





Yang San-lang, Lakeside in the Early Autumn, 1940, Third Governor-General Art Exhibition.




Najima Mitsugu, Early Autumn Landscape, 1940, Third Governor-General Art Exhibition.




Porcelain jian nian dragons





    Jian nian (“cut and paste”) is a traditional handicraft which was brought to Taiwan from southern China and is now one of the most prominent forms of ornamentation for temple roofs and walls. Its name comes from the technique by which craftsmen cut and paste pieces of porcelain to a plaster surface, creating different figurines. In this painting, Chen cleverly hid a jian nian dragon in the lush background greenery. Can you find it?





Protector dragons





    The jian nian artwork decorating Taiwan’s temples features a wide-ranging cast of characters. Certain are more common than others, such as protector dragons which prowl temple roofs to ward off evil spirits. In this painting, two pairs of rooftop dragons guard the Seven-Story Pagoda and the Mani Jewel—both visual representations of Buddhist concepts. The green dragons are bestowed with a special protective power to summon rain in the event of fire to save the temple from destruction.





Japanese architecture





    During the Japanese era, as more and more “mainlanders” settled in Taiwan, Japanese-style structures began to spring up in large numbers across the island. Within this painting, certain architectural elements are identifiably Japanese. For example, the building in the front-center features an onigawara (ogre-face tile) at its apex, a transom light at its gable, and clapboards covering its exterior walls. Old historic homes such as this can still be seen along the streets of Chiayi today.





Trees and composition





    Chen often arranged his landscapes with a large tree on one side of the canvas, its branches and leaves stretching and opening up like an umbrella to obscure the sky. This green shade placed in the foreground, running along the top of the canvas, creates greater depth and expresses the natural state and local ecological scenery of early autumn.





A Farming Household, oil on canvas, 91 x 117 cm, 1934.




Chang Jung Girls’ Senior High School Dormitory, oil on canvas,91×116.5cm,1941。





    Chen framed these scenes with a large tree or trees on one side of the canvas, branches stretching across the top. This arrangement highlights the distinctive natural features of the landscape and creates a sense of depth. Just imagine what these canvases would look like if the trees were not there.