Love at the West Lake - in Remembrance of Mr Lin Fengmian

Huang Miaozi

 

I went to Shanghai in 1932. In around 1933 or 1934 1 visited the West Lake in Hangzhou. I saw the young students of Hangzhou Art Academy sang and painted at their campus by the lake, I envied their wonderful artistic learning environment. I was in my early 20s and I craved for art. I read the magazine issued by the Hangzhou Art Academy called "Apollo", and be­came a great admirer of Lin Feng­mian, Li Jinfa and Cai Weilian. Unfortunately I had no confidence in my artistic talent and did not enroll in the academy to become Lin's student.

Students taught by Lin, including Zhao Wuji, Wu Guanzhong, Li Keran, Yan Han, Aie Jinlan and soprano Zhang Quan, would never forget their clear old principal. They would never forget the times when Lin painted an et chatted with them. I learned about Lin's early lives mainly from them.

Lin Fengmian's personalities and works were "purities". His nature, characters and artistic mood were consistant and enclosed in a state of beauty Like the West Lake, Lin Fengmian gave people an impression of  youthfulness. His works, be they in rich and loud colours or in elegant_ and light tones, were filled with youthfulness.. They were psalms of youth.

I first met Lin Fcngmian in 1945 in Chongging. There was a joint exhibition of modern paintings. Participants included Lin Feng­mian, Pang Xunliu, Ni Yidc, Zhao Wuji, Guan Liang and Yu Feng. 1 met Lin for the firstt time at the exhibition. From the 1950s onward my friend Ma Guoliang lived next to Lin Fengmian in Shanghai. Lin seldom received guests. However, Ma and I  made an appointment to visit Lin. When we got there, I was im­mediately attracted by Lin's works. They really opened my eyes. At that time, Lin often worked on topics like flowers, still life and land­scapes. His rich and heavy colour tones had moved away from the light and mild style of Matisse.

We spent the whole afternoon there. Usually Lin did not introduce his works, but let his viewers comment freely. He listened to our opinions and added in some humble words from time to time

On my second visit to Shanghai, I ran into Lin in the street. He was still wearing his wide short coat and a warm smile under his beret. At that time his painting album was first published in China. He had read my comments on the newspaper and invited my wife and me to his place. That was on the eve of the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957. He had great mood for painting, and his works displayed the mild mood of Matisse's again. In our conversation, Lin mentioned briefly, "Nowadays it is hard to paint; the paintings could only be placed at home for my own appreciation."

When the campaign was over, Lin's works were displayed in the art gallery of Beijing Central Institute of Fine Arts in around 1964 and 1965. 1 went to the show and was happy to sec Lin's works which came like a relieving shower upon the steaming dense forest of the painting field. When some art students asked me what was so good about Lin's paintings, I told them, "they bring you a totally new world in painting." However, it was the start of the Cultural Revolution, they condemned the paintings as bourgeois and decadent.

After the 1980s when Lin Feng­mian had gone to Hong Kong, the trend of art in China changed drastically. Little would Lin dream that his works really brought a new world to today's Chinese art.

By the end of the 1970s when Lin was permitted to settle in Hong Kong, he had sent many works to friends. I received one which depicted reeds, cloudy sky and a lone wild goose. I was grateful for the gift, but had not associated it with the sad mood of departures and separations.

In the past ten years, I often came to Hong Kong and called on Lin every time. Last year, my wife Yu Feng and I went to see Lin, he was in a very good mood and showed us the six-leave "Nightmares" he painted in June 1989. He listened to our comments and went to lunch with us with some other friends.He  was very happy that day, and that was our last meeting.

This June when we came to Hong Kong, we learned that Lin had fallen sick. We called and asked about him. His adopted daughter said Lin was recovering and would he happy to see us. We did not want to disturb him and did not go. I thought of his painting of that lone wild goose. The mood was sorrowful and insecure. He finally found a place to rest and spent his last years living peacefully in Hong Kong. History would bear witness to the art he had left behind.

At present some Western art historians began to notice modern Chinese painters. They tried to study how Chinese artists combined Chinese art traditions with Western paintings. Lin Fengmian had studied in France. He had abandoned the confinements of Naturalism and absorbed the essences from the heritage of Oriental art. He combined the perspective and rich expressions of ink and brush in Chinese painting with the colours, lights and coherence of structure in Western painting. Supplemented with the youthful touch and sense of beauty, it became his unique style. His adoptation of square frames was also an indication of his adjustment for modern needs.

The green and blue tones which were his favourite were full of meticulous changes. His mild and light tones contained rich varia­tions. In his painting of a white lotus, each white petal had very complicated structure of colour and light. This was his special way of breaking through the tradition.

There was not much "outlining" in his works. He also broke the rule of outlining in ink in his figure and landscape paintings. He drew the lines in white, blue, dark purple or light brown according to the need.

Like some refreshing springs, or music in an elegant study, or a serenade, or raindrops on flower petals, or songs and dances of some young girls, Lin's paintings were the world of beauty which he had pursued. Inside these expressive forms, there was his crave for beauty and art and his love for mankind. He never forgot the lovely landscapes in his motherland or the sufferings of his people. He had done an oil painting "Civilians" in 1926 to show the sufferings and backwardness of Chinese people in the 1920s; ' his "Nightmares" dated 1989 was a masterpiece which depicted tragedy of the age. They told us that love and conscience were most important for artists.

 
Han Mo magazine number 24
 

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