Chen Banding (1876 – 1970), originally called Chen Nian, later changed his given name to Banding (which literally means ‘half a person’), as he had a twin brother. Born in Shaoxing, Zhejing province, he lived a relatively miserable life when a child. When he grew older, his uncle Wu Yin introduced him to Shanghai for an apprenticeship. He learned from masters such as Pu Zuoying, Ren Bonian and Wu Changshuo, and gradually became skilled at carving, calligraphy and painting. After he turned forty, he moved to the north to make a living and developed an intimate relationship with many artists in Beijing. He enjoyed an increasing reputation and became one of the most representative artists in Beijing and Tianjin. Masters of Chinese operas, like Mei Lanfang, all learned painting from him. Chen Banding was not only well-known for his art, but also for his moral integrity, as he had little interest in vanity fair.
We have borrowed Chen Banding’s fine works of art completed in early, middle and later years from Beijing Fine Art Academy for this exhibition and have them displayed in three parts, from which we can know the development of his career and detect his sentiment and artistic state of mind.
In early Republic of China, Wu Changshuo had made such remarks, “Banding has a great interest in traditional culture. He is good at carving and painting. His skill at depicting flora and human figures can rival that of artists in Song and Yuan dynasty. The arhats in his paintings are variable. He’s able to obtain the subtle truth in interpreting Buddhist Scripture. Therefore, people throng to ask for his works.” When it came to his later years, Chen Banding’s artistic achievements gradually grew mature as time had gone by. Despite all the hardships he had experienced, he never forgot where and why he started and retained his original aspiration.
It has been fifty years since Chen Banding departed, but the charm of his art would never perish. Therefore, we host this exhibition in honor of him.
The above serves as the preface.
Director of Suzhou Museum