Museum honors artist, cartoonist

Cheng Shifa Art Museum, with its whitewashed walls and gray-tiled roofs, sits quietly across from Old Huating Road, a few steps away from the Xilin Temple.
Ti Gong

Cheng Shifa Art Museum 

Cheng Shifa Art Museum, with its whitewashed walls and gray-tiled roofs, sits quietly across from Old Huating Road, a few steps away from the Xilin Temple.

The museum, named after the Chinese calligrapher, painter and cartoonist Cheng Shifa (1921-2007), is both a memorial hall dedicated to the artist and an art center of masterpieces dating back to ancient times.

Cheng chose the site himself in 2005, just two years before his death.

“I spent my early days in my hometown Songjiang, where I finished many of my important works,” he said at the time.

The museum complex consists of three buildings in three separate ancient architecture styles that once graced the old street, reviving the scene that inspired much of Cheng’s early works.

The main complex was the mansion of Qu Jikang, a close friend of Cheng’s. They once collaborated on a performance of the Peking opera “Empty City” in Songjiang in 1946.

Qu’s residence reflects the simple, disciplined early days of Cheng’s career. It is decorated with local, old-fashioned furniture collected from rural villages, including a wooden bookshelf, carved bed and desk, and a kitchen with a clay oven and woks.

A second building is the former residence of Wang Zhishan, a government official during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). This site exhibits 23 of Cheng’s most famous paintings, all donated by the artist.

Wang’s residence symbolizes changes in Cheng’s life. It was there in 1940 that the artist married Zhang Jinqi, a classmate from the Shanghai Arts School. It was also the site where Cheng completed his first comic book entitled “The Wild Boar Forest” in 1950.

Cheng originally rose to fame as an illustrator to works such as the short stories of Lu Xun (1881-1936), who is considered one of the 20th century's best-known Chinese writers.

However, Cheng ultimately became better known for his traditional brush paintings of minority ethnic groups from Yunnan Province.

The third building in the museum complex is the former residence of Yuan Chang, a scholar during the Qing Dynasty. The building has been renovated into an exhibition hall, displaying 57 artworks of famous Chinese painters and calligraphers -- all collected and donated by Cheng.

If the museum’s security guard is not busy, he often chats with visitors. It’s hard to know if everything he says is authentic, but it’s still fun to gossip a bit with him, given his ready store of anecdotes about Cheng and the museum’s background.

“The paintings donated by Cheng with fewer signets are authentic and are part of the museum’s permanent collection,” he said.

All the exhibition halls are climatically controlled to preserve the paintings. In the museum’s front courtyard, a bronze statue of Cheng stands against the backdrop of an old Songjiang stone bridge.

In the central plaza, a giant stone-carving wall displays a long list of Songjiang artists, from ancient to modern times. The names include Lu Ji (261-303), Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) and Dong Qichang (1555-1636).

Address: 458 Zhongshan Rd M

Admission: free

Hours: 9am-4pm, closed on Mondays

To get there: take G60 Highway and get off at the Songjiang exit. Turn right on Ledu Road, then left on Renmin Road N and finally right to Zhongshan Rd M near old Huating Road. 

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