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Yen-Yung Ting (1902-1978)
Ting Yen-yung was born on April 15, 1902 (the 8th day of the 3rd month in the 28th year of the reign of Guangxu) in Maoming County, Guangdong Province (present-day Gaozhou). Yen-yung was his given name, to which style names Shudan and Jibo were added. His friends and students in Hong Kong addressed him as "Ting Gong", meaning "the revered Mr. Ting". Born in the zodiac year of the tiger (hu), he often used "Ting Hu" on his seals. His name in English is Ting Yin Yung. It is often romanised as Ting Yen-yung, but Ding Yanyong is in more common use nowadays. His oil paintings and sketches are signed "Y. Ting" and "Y. Y. Ting".
He was noted for his interests in painting and calligraphy as a child and his talents were much encouraged by his family and teachers.
At age 19, in 1920, he went to Japan to study art under the auspices of the Guangdong provincial government. After his arrival in Tokyo in autumn, he started to learn Japanese and enrolled in the Kawabata Painting School to improve his drawing skills. In September of 1921, he enrolled in the Western Painting Department, Tokyo School of Fine Arts, now known as Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. The School, with its Western Painting Department modeled on the art academies in England and France, was the most prestigious art school in Japan. Mr. Ting combined rigorous training of the academic tradition and influences from the lively and liberal art scene in Tokyo to choose Fauvism and its great master, Henri Matisse, as the starting point for his own artistic endeavors.
His post-Impressionist painting On the Dining Table, was selected for display in the Central Art Exhibition of Japan in 1924, which was considered a great honor by his teachers and fellow students.
In Fall of 1925 he returned to China and became actively involved in the Shanghai art scene. He taught Western painting in Lida School, Shenzhou Schools for Girls and Shanghai University of Fine Arts. He also joined Chen Baoyi and other colleagues to form the Zhonghua University of Fine Arts with the support of Cai Yuanpei. Mr. Ting served as a trustee of the University and its registrar, as well as chairman of the Art Education Department.
He was invited to serve as a member of the Adjudicatory and Preparatory Committee of the First National Art Exhibition, organised by the Education Department in 1928. He took part in the adjudication of Western-style paintings submitted to the exhibition. In fall he left Shanghai for Guangzhou at an invitation to establish the Guangzhou Municipal Museum. He also started to teach at Guangzhou Municipal College of Art and Guangdong Sports Academy.
When Guangzhou Municipal Museum opened its doors at Zhenghai Lou (location of the present-day Guangzhou Museum) in 1929, in addition to serving on the Management Committee of the Museum, Mr. Ting was head of the fine arts section, mainly responsible for the building of an art collection encompassing ancient and modern art of China and other countries.
This same year, he participated in the First National Art Exhibition in Shanghai. His oil painting, Girl Reading, won critical acclaim. The year represented a turning point in his artistic development. He started to collect the works of Bada Shanren, Shitao and Jin Nong, thus embarking upon a life-long appreciation and collection of Chinese art and antiquities. He was also inspired to teach himself Chinese painting. Despite criticisms from his fellow Western-style artists of the modern school, Mr. Ting launched his creative path of synthesising Chinese and Western art for the rest of his life.
From 1932 to 1940, he taught at Xinhua College of Art and other art schools in Shanghai but returned to Guangzhou many times during these years.
He left Guangzhou again and went to Chongqing, the wartime capital, and continued his teaching career in the National College of Art that had recently moved to Panxi near Chongqing.
He participated in the Exhibition of Modern Paintings of China and the Exhibition of Paintings by Independent Artists held in Chongqing in 1945. Other participants included Lin Fengmian, Guan Liang, Peng Xunqing, Wu Dayu, Fang Ganmin, Li Zhongsheng and Zhao Wuji. All of them belonged to the modern school, striving for innovations and breakthroughs from tradition.
In 1946, he took part in the Exhibition of Contemporary Painting of China held in Museé Cernuschi, Paris. His painting, Banana Plant and Frog, was acquired by the Museum after the exhibition. Returning to Guangzhou, he assumed the directorship of Guangdong Provincial College of Art. He was in office from 1946 to 1949 when he reached the pinnacle of his fifty-year career in art education.
Ting left Guangzhou in 1949 to move to Hong Kong. He adopted a new name, "Hong", likening himself to a wild goose flying to the south. He continued to use this name well into his late years. Just like the large number of refugees who fled to Hong Kong at this time, Mr. Ting suffered extreme financial hardship. He could only afford to rent a small room.
When he began teaching art at Tak Ming Middle School, he was able to move into its modest staff quarters. At the same time he started to take private students, marking the beginning of his teaching of Chinese painting.
He taught freehand drawing at the Architectural Engineering Department as a part-time professor of Chu Hai College from 1954 until 1959.
At the invitation of Qian Mu, president of New Asia College, Mr. Ting joined Chen Shiwen in 1957 to set up a two-year Fine Arts Programme, marking the beginning of a long relationship with the Fine Arts Department that lasted until 1978. For more than two decades, the Fine Arts Department of New Asia College was his base for realising his ideals for art education and art promotion in the society. Apart from teaching a number of courses in Chinese and Western art, he took part in teaching the summer courses and the annual art exhibition of works by teachers and students. His creative works were included in the publications of the Department and the College.
At the invitation of the British Council, Ting presented his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 1957.
New Asia College showed an exhibition of archaic seals and Buddhist sculptures entirely drawn from Mr. Ting’s collection in 1958 and in 1960, and after years of studying and collecting archaic seals, he began to carve seals of his own.
With the founding of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1963, the Fine Arts Department became part of The Chinese University together with New Asia College. Mr. Ting continued his part-time status because of restrictions of staff establishment of The Chinese University.
In 1963, he was invited by Princess Alexandra Community Hall, Tsuen Wan, to present a solo exhibition. He showed about ninety recent works, including over fifty oil paintings and over thirty Chinese paintings. He also conducted a painting demonstration. That same year, he was invited by the Chinese Culture Association in Hong Kong to present a solo exhibition at its premises in Haiphong Mansion. Apart from those works previously shown, he added a new selection of paintings in oil and ink. Both his oil and Chinese paintings received critical acclaim.
In 1971, Gnerph University in Canada presented a solo exhibition of his paintings.
He was appointed chairman of the Fine Arts Department, Tsing Hua College in 1972 and served until 1977.
In 1973, at age 73, he was invited to present a solo exhibition at L’Université Paris as part of the cultural programme of the Twenty-ninth Congress of Orientalists. Prior to the exhibition in Paris, a large-scale preview was held at Hong Kong City Hall featuring over 150 Chinese paintings of flowers, birds, insects, fish, landscapes and figures. Apparently in his late years Ting was spending more and more of his efforts on Chinese painting, calligraphy and seal engraving. These were his source of international acclaim, overshadowing his earlier reputation as an oil painter. From this time on, exhibitions of his works were held in Taiwan, Japan, USA, Canada, Singapore and Australia. His paintings were collected by museums in the world and sought after by artists and art-lovers alike. In July he was invited to visit Paris to attend his solo exhibition presented in conjunction with the Twenty-ninth Congress of Orientalists. It was his first visit to Europe, which brought him to the land of origin of Fauvism and the opportunity to view original works by Henri Matisse. He also visited Italy on this trip. Thereafter, he began to teach Chinese painting at the Department of Extramural Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He taught this course until the time of his death in 1978.
In 1974 he participated in Contemporary Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: An Exhibition by the Fine Arts Faculty of New Asia College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, jointly organised by the Fine Arts Department and Yale-in-China Association. The exhibition toured universities and art galleries in the U.S. for two years and a catalogue was published. Prior to sending the exhibition overseas, a preview exhibition was held in the Hong Kong City Hall.
He was invited by Nippon Nanga-in to participate in its fourteenth annual exhibition and visited Kyoto to attend the opening ceremony at Kyoto Art Museum. Mr. Ting was represented by a monumental painting, Ink Lotus and Mandarin Ducks. He continued to participate in the subsequent four annual exhibitions of Nippon Nanga-in, represented by Eagle Perching on Tall Pine, Crane in Wait for Flight, In the Same Boat and Hibiscus successively.
A solo exhibition was presented by Gallery of East & West Art, Melbourne in 1976. Mr. Ting was invited to visit Melbourne and to conduct a number of painting demonstrations, including one at the National Gallery of Victoria.
In 1977, Lungmen Art Gallery and The Artist Magazine jointly presented Mr. Ting’s solo exhibition in Taipei. It featured thirty-five recent works, mostly flower and bird paintings. He was invited to demonstrate how to paint chrysanthemum and lotus flowers in two sessions of the Introduction to Chinese Painting television series presented jointly by the Department of Extramural Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Commercial Television.
Zhou Hui and Tang Jiming jointly produced a documentary film on Mr. Ting and his paintings. It is now in the collection of Hong Kong Film Archive.
Ting Yen-Yung passed away in St. Teresa’s Hospital, Kowloon, on December 23, 1978, at the age of seventy-seven.
From a compilation by Dr. May-ching Kao
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