Adherents in Taiwan is one of Wang Yuezhi's signature works.[JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY]
In 1982, the National Art Museum of China received a collection of 41 paintings from the family of late Taichung-born painter and educator Wang Yuezhi (1894-1937).
At that time, very few people, even professionals in art circles, had ever heard of Wang, let alone the roles he once played in promoting Western art and establishing the mechanism of fine arts education on the mainland, where he spent the last 16 years of his life.
Now the top art gallery pays tribute to Wang's long-forgotten contributions to Chinese art history by mounting a carefully curated exhibition, titled A Tender Affection.
The display of 47 oil paintings and watercolors include NAMOC's complete collection and some copies of privately owned works－almost all of Wang's surviving paintings.
The three exhibition halls are covered with wallpaper in emerald green, a way to indicate the "scholarly elegance and tender affections for the homeland" of Wang and his contemporaries, according to the museum's deputy director Xie Xiaofan.
Wang was among the first generation of Chinese students who studied art in Japan in the early 20th century. He believed the neighboring country's experiences in modernization would help China escape the shackles of the past.
Wang learned oil painting at Tokyo Fine Arts School. After graduation in 1921, he pursued further studies at Peking University. He co-founded the esteemed Apollo Society, the first academic group to study and teach Western art in Beijing.
"Wang assembled a unique art vocabulary by conducting a dialogue between Western oil painting and Chinese ink traditions under his brushwork," Xie says.
Wang's canvases show the influence of Post-Impressionism and Expressionism, and meanwhile he adopted the vertical composition typical of Chinese painting. His watercolors feature refined lines and simple color schemes to present a translucent effect.
He won respect not only for pioneering the modernization of Chinese art: He also activated fine-arts education in China. He taught at several art colleges, co-curated national art expositions and founded a private art school in Beijing.
Despite a small oeuvre, his all-important creation was painting with oil on silk, once a common medium of Chinese painting. He applied diluted oil paints but created meticulous lines of the gongbi style. The two signature examples of his inventive experiment are The Abandoned Man and Adherents in Taiwan, which are on show.
In the latter work, Wang positioned three standing Taiwan women in the same way as the "Three Saints of the West" in Buddhism. The middle woman holds a model globe in her uplifted right hand; her hanging left hand has an open eye in the center.
"He said the eye looks in the direction of Taiwan. His eternal regret was not returning to his birthplace before death," says Han Jinsong from the museum's collection department.
Wang was born a year before the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in which the imperial Qing court ceded sovereignty of Taiwan to Japan. He grew up in an enslaved environment. Upon his resettlement on the mainland, he had been seeking a sense of belonging and recognition of his cultural identity as a Chinese.
"Adherents in Taiwan celebrates his deep love for China as his home country and his longing for Taiwan," Han says. "People can feel the same emotion in The Abandoned Man. He viewed himself and his fellows in Taiwan also as being abandoned by the Qing government. He painted the two works and told people never to forget the pains of homeland loss," Han says.
IF YOU GO
9 am-5 pm, until April 24. National Art Museum of China, 1 Wusi Dajie (Street), Dongcheng district, Beijing. 010-6400-1476.