- Lin Fengmian
- Chinese Opera Figures: Heroines of the Yangs
- oil on canvas
executed circa 1960s
Acquired directly from the artist in the 1960s
Thence by descent to the present owner
In 1950, the National Hangzhou Art Vocational School was criticised as the base camp for Formalism. As the representative figure of traditional art, Lin was forced into reform, but he could not adapt to the new teaching philosophies of the School. In the summer of 1951, he returned to live with his wife and daughter in Shanghai.
Shortly after arriving Shanghai, he had the opportunity to watch Peking and Shaoxing operas with his friend Guan Liang since he was unemployed and had no other duties. Eventually, he started to develop the idea of using paintings to represent characters and scenes in Chinese operas. Art critics attributed the style of his Chinese Opera Series as "Cubism".
During that year in November, Lin Fengmian talked about his understandings of Chinese opera in the letters between himself and his students:
Recently I've had the opportunity to appreciate traditional Peking Opera while living in Shanghai, I realize that Shaoxing opera has improved a lot. There are many subject matters that I like about opera. It seems to me that this time I have a better understanding about its distinctive features: New opera is divided by acts whereas traditional opera breaks into scenes. The division of acts creates an existence of space, but the separation by different scenes appears to embody the idea of a continuation in time. In this sense, the elements of time and space are more likely to reconcile in traditional opera. Just like how Picasso breaks down objects into planes and places them on a flat surface.
My practice is to break down the story and its characters of each scene into fragments, and paste them on my picture. It is not the volume in the objects and characters that I am looking for; instead it is a pursuit of the overall continuality. Since this way my paintings do not look frightful, I decided to go on. Vibrantly bright colours and ambiguous movements are found in traditional opera, in which particularly I like the rawness of the masks. I have already produced a number of works and the process has been very appealing even though my style has completely altered. Anyway, my friends are dazzled by my dreadful paintings. Some of them even said I am insane... traditional opera is densely composed with performers acting on stage, if you do not apprehend its original meaning, then you will not be able to discover its essence. I use a primitive framework to appraise everything. This way, all the stage walk looks like Chaconne and Blues.
YANG'S FEMALE WARRIORS
As Yang's men sacrificed themselves heroically in the battle between Song and Liao tribe, 100-year-old Lady Yu led all the Yang's female warriors and Mu Guiying to go to war for revenge and defeated the enemy.