Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

An Apprentice

Guo Xuehu's name at birth was Jinhuo. Jinhuo lost his father when he was only two years old and relied on his mother for support. In elementary school, he received his earliest formal art education—in watercolor—from his art instructor Chen Yingsheng. In 1923, he graduated from elementary school and enrolled in Taipei Country College of Industry to study engineering. Yet, he quit school after only one semester to pursue art. He needed to forge a viable career for himself.

In the 1920s and 1930s, aspiring artists in Taiwan, Japanese or Taiwanese-Chinese, had a few options to enter on a path of professional training. They could study privately with an art instructor, become an apprentice in a professional workshop, or leave Taiwan to attend an art school in Japan. In 1925, Guo Jinhuo entered a four month long apprenticeship with Cai Xuexi (1884-1964). The other two options were out of his financial reach.

Cai Xuexi was a professional painter from Fujian who specialized in ink painting. He taught Guo how to mount paintings and encouraged copying as a study method. He also gave Guo his artistic name "Xuehu," under which he is known today. Guo learnt at his studio how to paint Daoist and other religious subjects (Kuo 2000, 49-50; Taipei Fine Arts Museum 1989, 17, 207). Moreover, the work in Cai's studio provided the young aspiring artist with an opportunity to view many paintings and thus contributed to his early art education.

When describing his artistic path in the essay submitted to the library contest just a few years later, Guo Xuehu downplays this apprenticeship and doesn't mention Cai Xuexi's name. Instead, he emphasizes how he got the job of a scroll mounter because it would allow him to look at "many great paintings." In this way, he disassociates himself from Chinese painting traditions without directly disavowing them. Or, instead of being an artist who carries out painting traditions of one specific region (Fujian) or an ethnic group (Chinese), he claims a library-based education that spans large swaths of East Asia.

Cai Xuexi's paintings and those of some other artists working in ink painting and calligraphy traditions of the Qing dynasty were rejected from the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. As far as we can judge from reproductions and remaining newspaper sources, the Japanese jurors at the Taiwan salon preferred paintings in style of contemporary nihonga works. They did accept some literati landscapes, yet overall these works appear more aligned with contemporary trends in literati painting in Japan rather than China. (It is difficult to do careful stylistic analysis when few original works from the first exhibition remain and you need to rely on small black and white reproductions. See this database for reproductions of all works from the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibitions and information on participating artists.) For this reason, some art historians have criticized the concept of tōyōga as a misnomer and suggest that in fact works in the tōyōga division at the salon were stylistically so close to nihonga that the term itself stood for Japan's putative takeover of the leadership of East Asian painting (see Yen 2007, 85; Liao 1996, 43; Kuo 2000).

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