Lin Fengmian in My Eyes      Steven N. S. Cheung

I often argue with friends over Lin Fengmian's works. They like his early paintings while I prefer those he did in later years. We have different view points. They take Lin's paintings as Chinese paintings while I am of the opinion that Lin was inspired by the French Impressionists. He should be one of their representative figures.

I think Lin Fengmian's masterpieces are comparable to those by some great Impressionist painters.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Lin two years ago, and we became good friends.

Lin's life was a colourful story. Born in 1900, Lin was a native of Mei Xian, Guangdong. He was regarded as a painting whizz-kid by the natives. In 1919, he went to try his luck in Shanghai and later went to study in Paris with a scholarship. He studied in one of the best art training grounds in France and spent three years there before moving to Germany.

The times Lin was in Paris was the golden period for visual art. Matisse had arrived in Paris one year before him; Monet was in his peak condition; Cezanne had passed away but his art was greatly valued; Modigliani had just died; and Picasso and Braque were in Paris. Lin had obtained all the essences in art.

His misfortune came from Cai Yuanpei's appreciation of him. Cai was an influential figure in the Nationalist Party. He had great knowledge in painting. In 1925 when Lin was 26, he returned to China and took up the key post of president of Beijing Academy of Fine Arts upon Cai's invitation. Later he went to work in Hangzhou, Chongqing and Shanghai.

During the Cultural Revolution, Lin saw the coming calamity and soaked his 2000 paintings in the bath to destroy. Later he was put into prison for more than four years, and underwent much humiliations and persecutions.

People who knew Lin Feng­mian all agreed that he was a lovely man. He often smiled, never criticised others and was not concerned about politics. He was a pure artist. Painting was his entire life and nothing else concerned him. For such a pure artist to destroy all his favourite works, his pain and agony was beyond any kind of expression.

Lin was permitted to come to Hong Kong in 1977. Several years later, his life improved and he concentrated on painting. He re­vealed his skills learned from Paris to the full. However, international art critics did not seem to realize that such a talent of the French Impressionist school was exerting his talents in Hong Kong. His excellent works would become priceless once the Western art historians learned of his story.

Last August I went to the Mod­ern Art Museum in New York. The works on display were produced in the same period when Lin was studying in Paris. I told the museum staff that I knew a man whose works were at the same period of time, and his standard was well above most of exhibits.

Several months after my return, I said to Lin's adopted daughter Feng Ye that she should send some of Lin's masterpieces to the museum. She was happy to do so. However, Lin was offered an award in Taiwan, and he fell sick after returning. We did not proceed on sending his works to New York. Afterwards Lin passed away.

It was hard to tell who was the founder of the Impressionist school which started from the mid-19th century, but I could say that Lin Fengmian was its last representative figure.

 
Han Mo magazine number 24
 

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