Painter indulges in cross-Straits history
Kao Ying-chih makes a model ship in his studio in Fuzhou, Fujian province. [Photo/China Daily]
Kao Ying-chih has temporarily stopped work on his painting, which is almost half-finished.
The 53-year-old, who comes from Taiwan, said he did not want to reveal details of his 4-meter-long, 1.7-meter-wide painting too soon.
The painting, which depicts the Battle of Majiang, a 19th Century naval battle between China and France and which is known outside the country as the Battle of Fuzhou, is solemn and stirring, he said, adding that the historical theme is different from the paintings he does of individual ships.
Historical oil paintings must use history as a reference, and making sure parameters are correct is also very important, Kao said.
"It is normal for a historical oil painting to be modified and studied a number of times before completion to make it more realistic," he added.
In addition to conducting research and searching for visual records, Kao said he hopes to seek advice from naval experts to create the most accurate depiction possible so that his painting truly reflects historical events.
He has made many visits to Mawei Port in Fuzhou in Fujian province, where the battle took place and has collected many old pictures, documents and other source materials.
The Battle of Majiang took place in August, 1884 during the Sino-French War between 1883-1885.
The Chinese navy was defeated as a result of the corrupt Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) rule, leading to the then government's signing of an unequal and humiliating treaty.
"Historical paintings cannot only be drawn from the painter's imagination, they must be based on historical research. I can't just imagine scenes out of thin air," he said.
Kao has painted more than a dozen ship-themed oil paintings in his 40-square-meter studio in Fuzhou's Jinjiang district.
They mainly depict major naval battles, ancient warships and the development of shipping across the Taiwan Straits.
They include a 150-centimeter-long, 90-cm-wide depiction of China's first 1,000-metric-ton steam-powered warship, the Wannianqing, which was built by the Fujian shipping administration authorities.
It draws the attention of many visitors to his studio.
Construction of the Wannianqing began on Jan 18, 1868, and it was launched on June 10, 1869. After being approved by the Qing government, it entered use on Oct 1 that year. It was the first official ship built by the Qing government after the Self-Strengthening, or Westernization Movement, which was a 34-year period of radical institutional reform.
The Wannianqing mainly patrolled the Taiwan Straits and was also used to crack down on smuggling.
Kao arrived in Fuzhou, which is known as the "city of the banyan tree", from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan to begin painting ships in March, 2018.
He quickly fell in love with the history and culture of shipping in Fujian.
Previously a movie prop maker in Taiwan, he said that he hopes to be able to make the centuries-old Fujian ships "live" again through his paintings and models, and to restore the real history between Fujian and Taiwan.
To make his paintings lifelike and vivid, he often makes a model before he starts to sketch and the 1: 100 scale Pingyuan model warship he made has also become an attraction for studio visitors. Completed in May 1889, the Pingyuan was China's first all-steel warship.
Having consulted historical records and experts, Kao is more familiar with the history of shipping across the Taiwan Straits than most ordinary people and he said that the Qing government was only interested in weapons and paid no attention to building a naval support system.
"Although the Qing government purchased many weapons from abroad, the command system and logistics support necessary in a war were not created, and that eventually led them to one defeat after another," he said.
As a Taiwan resident, Kao said that he aims to encourage more people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits to explore the history of shipping and the future of the country through his paintings.
"I will remain in Fuzhou and continue my ship-themed paintings for the next few years," he said.
Yang Jie in Fuzhou contributed to this story.
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