Shanghai artists bring Bund to life

An exhibition captures the many moods of the Bund by several Shanghai artists. 
Ti Gong

"The Bund" by Zhu Gang

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"Listen to the Waves" by Lu Yongsheng

“Whether it is the past or the present, the center of Shanghai has always been the Bund.” That's what Christian Henriot, a French scholar of Shanghai history, once said.

Over the past century, the Bund has witnessed majestic changes of the city and carried the fusion of Chinese and Western cultures. The Gothic, Baroque and Rococo architectural styles from the West meet the tenon, dougong brackets and shikumen (stone-gate) styles of China.

As the most representative landmark and symbol of Shanghai, the Bund has more than 20 buildings from different periods, styles and countries. Therefore it is known as the “architecture exposition of the world,” with distinctive characteristics and high aesthetic values.

Hosted by Shanghai Jiushi Group, the exhibition “Symphony of the Century – Collection of Oil Paintings of the Historical Changes of the Bund” features 103 oil paintings created by 80 artists from Shanghai, including big names such as Huang Azhong, Chen Xiejun and Xia Baoyuan.

The exhibition is currently running at Liu Haisu Art Museum until November 15.

The organizers invited many veteran experts and scholars to seek their advice and suggestions on the exhibition.

The highlight of the exhibition is “The Bund – An Afternoon in the Republic of China (1912-1949)” by Xia Baoyuan. In it, the artist depicts the back of man walking in the dusk under the Waibaidu Bridge. 

The special arrangement of the tableau and the rare angle of the Bund perfectly capture the atmosphere of the area. 

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“The Bund – An Afternoon in the Republic of China” by Xia Baoyuan

In 1843, following the “Treaty of Nanjing,” the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) government opened up five Chinese ports for foreign trade, which helped boost the construction of many Western-style buildings on the Bund.

The Bund is not just a landmark, but the foundation on which the century-old history of the city stands.

“Old Shanghai is still deeply attached to the buildings on the Bund," says Huang Yiqian, curator of the exhibition. “But for the new generation here and for those coming from other parts of China, the Bund is probably just a symbol. In their eyes, the landmark value of the Bund has replaced its rich artistic value, cultural connotation and historical significance.”

Through the oil paintings that depict the changes of the Bund, Huang hopes that the charm, the stories and the history behind these buildings will be appreciated.

In fact, the Bund has always been an intriguing subject for artists in Shanghai in different periods. For example, Liu Haisu (1896-1994), Yan Wenliang (1893-1988), Lin Fengmian (1900-91) and Chen Yifei (1946-2005) all created masterpieces on the same subject.

But it is not an easy subject to deal with.

“Because almost every Shanghai resident or visitor knows what the Bund looks like. For artists, it is difficult to capture it on canvas with a particular flavor,” says Huang Azhong, a veteran artist.

His words are echoed by Zhu Gang, director at Liu Haisu Art Museum.

“The artists should mirror the vicissitudes of the Bund of the past century. In other words, they have to reinterpret the Bund,” Zhu says. “Many participating artists have a strong emotional link with the city, and the Bund has been an haunting image since their childhood.”

For Chen Xiejun, former director of Shanghai Museum, it is a meaningful activity. 

“I hope it will not only be an exhibition, but also a review of the history. There should be some humanistic perspective and concept,” he notes.

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"Warmth of the City" by Huang Azhong

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"Shiliupu Dock in the Old Time" by Yang Jide

“Symphony of the Century – Collection of Oil Paintings of the Historical Changes of the Bund”

Date: Through November 15, 10am-5pm

Venue: Liu Haisu Art Museum

Address: 1609 Yan’an Rd W.


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