PREVIOUSLY IN THE COLLECTION OF SHENG CHENG
Qi Baishi dedicated this painting to Cheng Zhong, the nickname of Sheng Cheng (1899-1996), a well-respected, international literary scholar, poet and linguist. The painting is also dedicated to Yufen, the father-in-law of Sheng Cheng.
Sheng Cheng’s family and the relatives of his first wife were close friends with Qi Baishi. A good companion of the bride’s father, Qi Baishi was asked to be the witness at Sheng’s wedding. Although Qi did not fulfill this request, he composed and inscribed poems in honour of the couple. According to records, the first four paintings were painted in celebration of Sheng Cheng’s first wedding in 1923. Sheng Cheng and Qi remained close friends for the rest of their lives, occasionally visiting each other even in their old age. In 1946, Sheng Cheng’s second wife Li Jingyi invited Qi to paint an additional four paintings that would be framed in an album together with the previous four paintings, culminating in an album that represents a friendship spanning decades and a glance into the intertwining of their lives.
Sheng was born into a scholarly family in Yizheng. He was a diligent student and won fame young in life as one of Sun Yatsen’s “Three Boys of the 1911 Revolution.” Sheng Cheng travelled to France to study, focusing on sericulture at Montpellier, and later focused his studies on politics. Sheng returned to China in the early 1930s and taught languages and linguistics at several universities.
In 1948 Sheng accepted a teaching post at Taiwan University and remained there until emigrating to the West. Beginning in 1965, he travelled to the United States and Europe, finally settling in southern France. Feeling homesick, he returned to China in 1978 and was appointed to teach at the Institute for Foreign Languages in Beijing, where he focused on studying the linguistic roots of the Malay, Chinese and Tibetan languages. He also continued to write poetry, for which he is well known and highly respected in China. In 1985, President François Mitterand presented Sheng Cheng with France’s highest award, the Légion d’honneur.
This present album of Qi Baishi works holds great significance historically and artistically – the wide subject matters ranging from still life to landscapes display the unique perspective Qi possessed that made him a great master. Qi refused to rigidly follow ancient guidelines on landscape paintings, creating unique works that different from the accepted norms of painting landscapes at the time. Peaches, dedicated to Madame Jingyi, is an emblem of marriage and a symbol of immortality and springtime.