Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 15 News List

Chiang Chao-shen: a scholar and a gentleman

The National Palace Museum is giving star treatment to the oeuvre of its former deputy director in an exhibition of his paintings calligraphy and seals

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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The Art of Chiang Chao-shen: Paintings, Calligraphy and Seals Donated by Mrs Chiang Chang Kuei-na (椒原翰墨 ─ 江兆申夫人章桂娜女士捐贈書畫篆刻展) is an unusual exhibition for the National Palace Museum: The works on display were produced by Chiang Chao-shen

(江兆申), a former deputy director of the museum, and not some long-dead artist whose life is shrouded in the mysteries of antiquity.

Chiang, who worked at the museum for 27 years and was held in very high regard as an expert on Chinese art, approached art as a gentleman scholar of the traditional stamp, for whom its appreciation and creation was a simple fact of life and not the preserve of academia or technocrats.

The exhibition’s subtitle — paintings, calligraphy and seals — highlights Chiang’s command of old world artistic skills, while other display items, such as handwritten labels for museum exhibits and airmail letters, show that he lived very much in the modern world.

Chiang represented the continuity of thousands of years of tradition, and though this exhibition showcases an important new acquisition by the museum — 110 works in all — it is also an exhibition of a life.

Born in China’s Anhui Province in 1925 to a family from the literati class, Chiang received a well-rounded education in the traditional scholastic arts, ranging from poetry composition to painting. After relocating to Taiwan in 1949, he received instruction from the literati master and imperial descendant Pu Hsin-yu (溥心畬), exhibited works privately, was noticed for his command of the Chinese artistic tradition and subsequently drafted onto the staff of the National Palace Museum. He retired as a deputy director in 1991 and died in 1996.

EXHIBITION NOTES:

WHAT: The Art of Chiang Chao-shen: Paintings, Calligraphy and Seals Donated by Mrs Chiang Chang Kuei-na (椒原翰墨 ─ 江兆申夫人章桂娜女士捐贈書畫篆刻展)

WHEN: Until June 25 (with a partial display change May 14)

WHERE: Galleries 210, 212, National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院), 221 Zhishan Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市至善路二段221號)

ADMISSION: NT$160


The works on show include a large number of paintings, mostly from his stylistically mature years following retirement, when he dedicated himself to his creative output. The paintings are categorized to show off the features of the style he had developed through years of studying the works of the great masters that are stored in the museum’s vaults.

Highly regarded for his diligence in mastering all aspects of the tradition that he had inherited, Chiang was no mere imitator. His paintings, while essentially classical in form, have a freshness and modernity about them.

The impression is not so much of an artist trying to innovate, but of a man devoted to his art and absorbing contemporary influences from the world around him.

Many of the paintings were inspired by Chiang’s travels through China. In Illustration of the Latter Red Cliff (後赤壁圖), he follows on a long-standing tradition of commenting on one of Chinese literature’s seminal works. But that tradition is gradually fading, and Chiang is probably from one of the last generations to have received such a rigorously traditional Chinese education. Illustration of the Latter Red Cliff, however, exudes a boldness that defies viewers to see it as anything other than part of a dynamic and robust heritage.

Apart from the paintings, which form the main part of the exhibition, other works, such as carved seals, calligraphy (both formal and informal) and letters create a sense of personal intimacy with the artist that is rarely experienced in other National Palace Museum exhibitions.

The key to Chiang’s achievement was his diligence in mastering the traditional arts. Panels in Four Script Types, undertaken when he was 70, is the result of a complete immersion in the calligraphic traditions. In Fengguidou (風櫃斗), a painting inspired by the plum blossoms of Taiwan’s Nantou County, he applied his artistic perception to his new home, while linking the work back almost 1,000 years by writing a Song Dynasty poem towards the top of the work.

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