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National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts
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Scenery and Vistas of Taiwan through the Eyes of Artists
Date: 9 Jul 2011 - 28 Feb 2012

In its Western usage, the term “landscape” was first derived from 16th century Dutch painting to describe pictures representing natural inland scenery. In the following centuries, the various connotations of this term all have a certain connection with the idea of the land which is widely considered the source of human life as well as the beginning of culture.

The development of Taiwanese art history is closely related to the history of landscape painting. One of the earliest examples of visual imagery depicting the landscapes of Taiwan can be traced to the 17th century Dutch nautical charts and topographical maps of Taiwan during the period of Dutch occupation. The first official mention of the term “Taiwanese scenery” occurs in Gazetteer of Taiwan Prefecture, which commits one chapter to introducing the Eight Great Scenery of Taiwan. Gazetteer of Taiwan Prefecture was first complied by Gao Gonf-qian, then governor of Taiwan and Xiamen (Hok-kien Province, China) of the Qing Dynasty in 1694. Edited by Fan Xian among others in 1747, the revised version of Gazetteer of Taiwan Prefecture is the earliest surviving source from which the The illustrations of Eight Great Scenery of Taiwancan be seen. That said, it should be noted that landscape painting was not a prominent genre in traditional Taiwanese ink painting during the Qing Dynasty, and few of the landscape ink painting from that period could be found to highlight the unique landscape and customs of Taiwan. It was not until the period of the Japanese Rule (1895-1945), when the Japanese colonial government introduced a Western educational system and with it modern art to Taiwan, that Taiwanese artists began to explore the local landscapes and cultural sites through this genre. Among the more prolific Japanese artists in Taiwan during this period, Ishikawa Kinichiro was perhaps the one who has made the most significant impact on the first-generation Taiwanese artists in terms of delivering a new way of seeing and expressing Taiwanese landscape. However, it must also be noted that during this period of Japanese colonial rule, landscape and scenic paintings which express the local color were never entirely devoid of ideological contents, as they were often imbued with overtones of a subtle colonialism.

Despite the end of Japanese rule, the plein-air painting, which had been the most popular art style among Taiwanese artists, continued to dominate the works of Taiwanese landscape and scenic painters in the 1950s and 1960s. On the other hand, this period also saw a surge in the traditional Chinese ink painting which depicted the landscapes of mainland China, as a result of the “Chinese culture revival movement” staged and instituted by the Chinese Nationalist government, which took over the reigns of Taiwan from Japan in 1945. In the 1960s and 1970s, the nation rapidly underwent industrialization and urbanization which has on the one hand made outdoor travel much easier and, on the other hand, triggered a nostalgic yearning for a return to nature. This situation can be seen to contribute significantly to a new rise of plein-air landscape and scenic painting in Taiwan. The Nativist Literature Movement of the 1970s helped foster a new wave of critical reflection on the cultural roots and troubled identity of Taiwan. The 1980s then saw a marked rise in the Taiwanese national consciousness in the wake of the democratization movement. This newly developing sense of cultural belonging and national identity significantly informed the artists' understanding, interpretation as well as their practice of landscape painting in those decades. In the 1990s, the newly acquired freedom of expression enabled Taiwanese artists to take landscape painting even further as a vehicle for critical inquiry and active engagement, as the artists turned away from depicting the idealized landscape in favor of exploring, through landscape painting, the extent of damage done to our natural environment as a result of overdevelopment.

As discussed above, from the 17th century to the present day, artists from different eras have employed landscape painting of some kind as a means of documenting and assessing the landscapes of Taiwan and, in doing so, exploring the relationships between politics, culture and society in their respective times. Landscape painting from each different era can be seen to articulate the spirits of their times or ways of seeing the world. It can therefore be suggested that by viewing and comparing these landscape paintings from different historical periods and genres, we are able to see changes in Taiwanese history over 400 years not only in terms of the physical landscapes of the country, but also in terms of the social-political attitudes of its people and artists.

It should be emphasized here that while the landscape and scenic painting may indeed reflect the artist's views, the meaning for the painting is open for interpretation by each individual viewer. It is through the ongoing exchange of views and experiences between the artists and the viewers that the collective memory of Taiwanese landscape is constituted.

This exhibition, Scenery and Vistas of Taiwan through the Eyes of Artists: A Century of Taiwanese Landscape and Scenic Art, presents a total of 52 sets of of Taiwanese landscape and scenic art by 57 artists. Selected from the permanent collection of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, these paintings are organized thematically in five sections along a historical line. The works are divided into five main themes, each of which can be seen to represent a particular style, aesthetic as well as political-cultural viewpoint : 1.) allegories of political desire; 2.) representations of the beauty of Taiwan and its landscape; 3.) popular memories of local life; 4.) expressions of the cultural and national identity; 5.) reverence for the land and environment. We hope that this exhibition will take the audience through the landscape of Taiwan as seen through the artists' eyes. In doing so, we hope to remind the audience of the beauty of Taiwan's landscapes and to encourage further reflections on the history and heritage of this fine land.

Curator: Hsueh Yen-ling

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