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What is the ‘Shanghai School’ in arts?

The Shanghai School (海上画派) is a a style of Chinese art present in the late 19th century and centered in Shanghai. It was during this period that China was facing a political and economical decline, leading to a surge of artists moving over to Shanghai, where traditional Chinese painting styles were increasingly receiving influence from the influx of new media forms like photography and colour posters. It was during this transition of Chinese paintings from ancient to modern times, that the new form of style called the Shanghai School emerged.

During the first Opium War in the 1850s, rebel armies had occupied a large portion of Southern China, leading many wealthy landowners and merchants to flee. They took refuge in Shanghai, and with the increase in trade from the West, Shanghai became a hub of economic prosperity. A new market emerged in lieu of Shanghai’s change and patrons seeked something fresh and different from the traditional style of painting that has been present for the past centuries. Artists utilised bolder colours and exaggerated the forms to increase their works’ visual impacts, leading to a distinct personality and novel art form to reflect the new artistic direction of Shanghai.

Some of the famous Shanghai School artists include Wu Changshuo, Zhao Zhiqian, Xu Gu and Pu Hua.


‘Shanghai School’ in Singapore

A number of first-generation artists in Singapore received their artistic training in either Shanghai or Paris. Some of them received training from the famed Shanghai School artists, and the essence of the art style can be found in their works. One of such artists who has traces of Shanghai School in their works would be the late Lim Cher Eng.

Just this March, an exhibition featuring works from the late Lim Cher Eng was done by Visual Arts Centre, titled ‘Ink Legacy: Ling Cher Eng Retrospective Art Exhibition’. Born in 1940, Ling Cher Eng was a second-generation Singaporean artist. Ling studied Chinese painting under the pioneer artist Fan Chang Tien (1907-1987) from 1957, when he attended Chung Cheng High School.

The literati tradition of the Shanghai School of painting as practised by Fan, which can be traced back to the Shanghai School masters Wang Geyi, Wang Yiting, Pan Tianshou and Zhu Wenyun deeply influenced Ling and resonated with his passion for ink painting.

Ling Cher Eng – an ink legacy of our time – passed away of a sudden illness while on tour with his artist friends to Taiyuan, Shanxi Province in China, in 1995. Nearly 20 years on, he is very much remembered by those who knew him, and his works are still enthusiastically mentioned among ink painting circles.

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