Editor's note: The following text was rekeyed and reprinted on April 8, 2009 in Resource Library with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author as follows:
G. T. Chan
by Victor Chan
Goon T. CHAN (aka S.K. Chan)
Born 1893 Tai Shan, Guangdong province, CHINA
Left China 1906 to Montreal for English schooling.
School at Museum of Fine Arts Boston October 1917 to 1928
Academie De la Chaumiere Paris 1928
Florence Academy 1929 - 30
Art show in Boston, Myles Standish Gallery and Museum of FA 1930
He had been a student at the Museum School from 1917 and graduated in 1928, having spent almost 12 years there.
During that period of time, he started with drawing and later, when he was to go on to the next level, he told his instructor, Philip Hale, that he was not ready to go on, but would rather learn more from the live drawing class. As a result, he spent more time at the school than any other student. He went through all the different aspects of art offered at the school, including painting in watercolour, oil, design and, later on, in sculpturing. His main sculpture teacher was Charles Grafly who spent a lot of time between Boston and Philadelphia, where he was instructor, as well. Charles Grafly was instrumental, also, in introducing Dad to an artist group in Rockport where, ultimately, he acquired a small house on Bear Skin Neck. He would go up by boat to Rockport from Boston in the spring from March onwards, even though the weather was quite cold at that time and is known to have conducted, later in his student years, courses in sculpturing at his studio in Rockport. The house is named Gull's Perch. Mr. and Mrs. Galen J. Perrett and her sister poetess, architect Elsa Rehmann were father's patrons. Galen Perrett was a well-known seascape painter and had also illustrated some of Edger Allen Poe's books.
While in the school, he made many friends and some life long ones, among whom was Miss Amelia Peabody. They were about the same age, They maintained a life long friendship. Also, at the school, but in later years, he was an instructor to Franz Denghausen, with whom I had the pleasure of corresponding and meeting when I did my residency here in Boston in the late 1960's. I also, corresponded with Miss Peabody, from the age of 14 until the time I met her in Boston and had many a pleasant visit to her home at 120 Commonwealth Ave and at Mill's farm in Dover, where she had a large estate. This included a "pig's palace", the name given by her workers to the area where the pigs were. It was kept so clean and organized that it was like a palace. Miss Peabody visited us in Vancouver in 1970.
Our father was known for his persistence and perseverance in search of perfection, and did not seem ever to be totally satisfied with a piece of work. He would feel that there was still some more improvement that he could acquire to make the next work even better. He was awarded 7 consecutive scholarships for sculpture. He was also one who was known to pursue art for art's sake. A piece of sculpture or painting purely for its artistic qualities than for any other purpose. This is best exemplified by the marble head of the boy that he did when he was in Florence, after graduating from the school in 1928. He visited Europe, partly funded by the school, and attended the Academie De la Chaumiere in Paris which was the school that Rodin had been and worked under Bourdelle, a noted pupil of Rodin. He then went on to Florence Academy where he did the marble head of the young boy.
This young Italian boy lived next door to his pension. Father felt that his features were exquisite and convinced the boy to sit for him. He started with a block of marble and did all the rough chiseling and cutting himself rather than entrusting this to a stone cutter. During that time, he took a trip to the Isle of Capri in 1928 and on the crossing between Naples and Capri, he became quite sea sick. Therefore he stayed longer on the island and thus missed his boat to Sorrento. This was a stroke of fate that brought my parents together. In those days you could not go up to a young lady and simply introduce yourself, if you were trying to strike up a conversation and so he bought some ice cream which in those days was quite rare to come by and treated a young boy to the ice cream and somehow it turned out that this young boy was the youngest brother of the Signorina. He was able to convince her that she could have a Bas-relief made. The sitting, somehow, lasted for 2 months. Obviously, he was not on any tight schedule, but was able to have her sit for this on a daily basis. During this time, she had various suitors that came to the door and she basically said that she wasn't interested in this person or that person and, at that rate, she was going to become an old maid. He mentioned that if she became an old maid, he would come back and marry her, to which she replied why wait until then, I will marry you now, as a joke, so my mother told me. This, she regretted saying because he lit up in such a fashion that she knew he was dead serious. He went and proposed marrying her by approaching our grandmother. She wisely said, as they did not know him, that he would need to send references and, secondly, that he would need to leave for 2 years, come back as a Catholic and, if at that time, she still wanted to marry him, they could have her blessing. We are quite sure that grandmother made these conditions thinking that he would not really come back to this, but he did. He went back to Boston, gave a show at the museum, as well as at the Myles Standish Gallery here in Boston and was very well received by the critics. Mr. F.W. Coburn wrote that, in quality, the marble head of the boy was a masterly work of the age. He also had a very good showing at the Museum of Fine Arts, together with his teacher Mr. Hale's work, as well as another sculptress, Katherine Lane (Weems).
After leaving Boston, he returned to Italy and to the Isle of Capri where he married our mother. At the time, there was no diplomatic relationship between China and Italy, besides which Fascist ideas were being promoted by Mussolini who was Minister of State Marrying a Chinese was probably not the most political thing to do at the time. Our mother lost her Italian citizenship by marrying him, but she did it anyway. Practically the whole island came to the wedding, as she was born there, the granddaughter of a previous Governor of the Island, Majore Guiseppe De Maria, who had, built a house which still stands today on Capri, not far from the main square. The house that Guiseppe built is distinguished by the marble head of a Roman girl which was excavated from the site and placed above the front door of the house by my great grandfather, with the face, of course, facing outwards. In any event, because of her local connections, the sailboats and many fishing boats,( the fishermen being all her friends,) followed the married couple out to sea from Capri to Naples where they boarded a Japanese steamer on the long journey to China. As they sailed away, our mother recalls seeing the dim outline of the Isle of Capri getting smaller and smaller. She had no idea then, that it would be at last 20 years before she would return.
On their journey, slow as it may have been, with many stops along different places such as the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, into Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore and eventually to Hong Kong, there were new sights and sounds for our Mom and even for our father. It was a 25 year time span from when he first left China in 1906 to this return to China. He had, however, always wanted to return. He had no ideas of staying in North America. His purpose for coming to North America, initially, was to respect his mother's wishes of coming and learning, she thought, Western medicine, but he was more interested in Art than medicine and, as a result, he did fulfill part of her wishes by coming to learn, though in a very different direction.
They arrived in the village in Tai Shan District of China. Ping On Village or Peace Village.
When they arrived in the village, his parents had both passed on. The elder in the village was an uncle who was a magistrate. He at first refused to come out to welcome them, as he had heard that he had taken a foreign wife, but for some reason he knew some Italian and when he heard she was Italian he changed his mind and came out to the village gate to welcome them in.The village was surrounded by a waterway and one would cross a bridge, much like a Medieval compound with its own wall and a tower 7 stories high. This was used as a storage facility for the harvest and also for defense. In those days there were bandits that would come and pillage This tower had slit windows covered by iron shutters where the people in the interior could shoot at the intruders.
This was a complete cultural shock for our mother, as the villagers had never seen a foreign woman. The older women were very curious, came up to touch her hair, her skin and when the family would have a meal, a round table meal, mother was not used to people using their chop sticks to fetch her food, after having put the chop sticks in their own mouth, so she was quite uncomfortable with this. When she went out in the morning to go for a walk, there were children following her and calling out to her and she would give them coins with a hole in the centre that she carried around on a string and the children, of course, would be very happy to get. One day my father asked why she was giving out money to them: "well they greeted me every morning." To this he replied they were calling her a foreign devil woman. After a short period in the village, they moved to the main city of South China, Canton and there our father became a professor of Art in two universities, one established by the city, called the Canton School of Fine Arts and the other by the Province which was called Shun Kun University. He was immediately well received by society in Canton; the Mayor, high government officials, rich merchants, foreign dignitaries such as General F. Lindermann, military advisor to the Chinese government early 30s, literary figures, all sought after him to do their busts and, in many cases, full size or greater than full size bronze statues (to adorn the fronts of different schools and establishments). This was probably the best period of time that he had (1931 to 1937). In 1937, the Japanese attacked Southern China and bombed Canton and our parents decided to move to Hong Kong, on a temporary basis, to avoid the hostilities. This, however, became a permanent move as there was no ability to go back. The house was totally looted and the floor boards were ripped out, as the servant who was left to guard the house ran away in fear, as the bandits roamed through the city.
Through their connections, with the Catholic church and through his work for the Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Angel, an order from Quebec, Canada, my sister joined their school.
Mother, being Italian, was in touch with the Italian convent school in Hong Kong. Father, between 1937 and 1941, again became very well known as a renowned sculptor and painter and his commissions were many during the time of unrest in the world. He made notably, the bronze bust of the Governor of Hong Kong and many professors of the University of Hong Kong and many of the noted people, including Sir Robert Kotewall, Sir G. Northcote, Duncan Sloss the Chancellor of the University and many noted English and Chinese scholars, as well as military men including Major Mcfadyen.
He had done the memorial bust of Dr Sun Yat Sen. He published a book in 1940 of his works. His painting of white peonies won first prize at the 1938 Hong Kong Art Club exhibition.
When the Japanese attacked and conquered Hong Kong the conquering General wanted our father to work on something to glorify their victory and, as he refused, he was obliged to run away during the night and took a passage to free China, just above Viet Nam an area influenced by the Vichy French. This place was safe from Japanese intrusion, but often Japanese planes did fly over.
After leaving in early 1942, he was not heard from until late 1945 when he suddenly reappeared. He thought, all along, that we were receiving his messages, as well as his money, but, unfortunately, all of this was intercepted and mother, in fact, had information that he had died during that time.
During the war years, because of the connection with the Italian convent, we spent the war years there. I was the baby of the nuns. It was hard times, we did have shelter, but food was scarce and each was responsible for finding food for the family. Mother did so by giving private lessons in languages, especially French and Italian. She was also quite ingenious in taking some of the habits of the Nuns, that they were not using, of very fine material that could be made into dresses and with her friend Amy, who owned a dress shop, they managed to get income from using this material in producing women's clothes. However she suffered malnutrition and a breakdown likely as a result. Her instinct to protect, feed and care for her three children was strong and helped carry her through.
After peace from the Second World War father returned and once again picked up on his work. He was forever working, it seemed, according to a good friend and a fellow artist, Yang Sin Sum whom I met 3 or 4 years ago, when he was 92 years old. He told me father was always working, was always conscientious, was considered one of the best, if not the best, sculptor of China, in his time, and he was very much saddened when father died in 1951, but between 1946 and 1951 he was very busy doing commissions from Sir Robert Kotewall, Sir Arthur Morse, the Chairman of the Hong Kong/Shanghai Bank, Sir Robert Hotung and many others. He also painted flowers and water scenes of sailing junks and Hong Kong's water front. He returned with an assistant Ah Sing. A teen who was seeking work in Guangzhou Wan to help support his single mother. Ah Sing became part of the family. He helped with the heavy work of casting and purchasing of clay. Both the clay and the bronze were of inferior quality compared with pre war, necessitating a lot of clean up afterwards.
In 1949 China fell to the communists. Father returned to Canton thinking he could salvage something from his home there. Instead he was arrested as a wicked landlord. A former student interceded for him and they let him return to Hong Kong empty handed.
He gave his last exhibition in 1950. Both English and Chinese press and critics praised the quality of his work. The Governor of Hong Kong Sir Grantham and Lady Grantham and Sir Robert Hotung were among the notables that attended. In mid August 1951 he suffered a stroke and succumbed to a second one a week later on the 22 August 1951. I recall him placing my hand in the palm of my older brother with his good hand and though he was unable to speak, we understood his final instructions.
My recent visit at the school MFA was facilitated by the work of LeeAnn Famolare, librarian and archivist who had made arrangements with Maureen Melton to have the original archives 1917 to 1930 brought over from the museum library. Wearing white cotton gloves I was able to leaf through delicate pages that bore so much history and found photographs and articles regarding father and his teachers and some notable classmates: Teacher of drawing and painting Philip Hale, sculptor Charles Grafly, renowned for General Mead Memorial in Washington, Federic Allen, sculptor.
Both Mr. Grafly 1929 (auto accident while Dad was in Europe) and Mr. Hale 1931 died soon after Dad's graduation.
Katherine Lane Weems and father exhibited at the Museum in 1930.
In 1927 the school moved to its current location on the Fenway from Copley square and father would have been a part of that move.
Dean Deborah Dluhy welcomed Judy and I and showed great interest as I narrated the career and life of G.T. Chan, using father's booklet of works (1940) and the CD produced by my brother Anthony and possible future article in ArtMatters on G.T .Chan.
We look forward to that.
BOY'S RETURN HOME TO BOSTON
On September 2nd 2008, "Portrait of a Boy" in marble by G. T. Chan, flew from Seattle to Boston in a carry-on bag, on United Airline flight 0386. On sept. 3rd Judy and I delivered him to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and presented him to Dean of the School, Deborah Dluhy and Librarian Darin Murphy.
Events leading up to this historic trip, from his creation in 1929 to sept. 3 2008, can be divided into early history and recent happenings.
"Boy" was created by G.T. Chan in Florence, Italy in 1929 when he was doing post-graduate studies in marble sculpturing, after graduating from SMFA Boston and after spending a year in Paris with Bourdelle.
On return to Boston, "BOY" was shown at the Fine Arts School Alumni Exhibition of 1930, drawing the attention of the art community. Katherine Brooks of the Boston Sunday Advertiser in her interview with G.T. quoted him as saying of the "BOY", He lived near my pension, and had such a beautiful head for modeling that I finally asked him to sit for me. He sat an hour a day for about a month, but I spent all day, every day that month, working on the bust.
F.W. Coburn, art critic, wrote " A very sensitive and exquisite head 'Portrait of a Boy' is by Goon T. Chan, a young Chinese sculptor and painter, whose unusually promising one man show was recently described. It is understood that Mr. Chan did all the cutting of this work with his own hands, instead of entrusting it to a professional marble cutter. In quality it should rank among the masterly works of this age." Mr. Coburn, in his review of G.T. Chan's exhibition at the Myles Standish wrote "Although Mr. Chan, a Canton Chinese painter, intensively trained in the art schools, has been in this country and Europe for 15 years, this is his first one-man show. His racial traditions demands, doubtless perfection to technique: after 10 years' study in the art academies Mr. Chan can tell the world, including his 400 million fellow countrymen, that he has laid the professional foundation carefully and thoroughly. As a sculptor Mr. Chan seems to combine the subtlety of western sculpture and the expressive simplicity of the ancient Chinese creators of imperishably lovely figures of Kwanyin and Avalolsitsvara in the caves of Sianfu and Longmen. A marble bust of a young boy is as fine as many of the glazed pottery heads of the Ming as say, the singing Lohan at the museum."
"Boy" then followed G.T. back to Italy, where he and mother married. They took him on a slow boat to China in 1931. In 1932 the young couple moved into their new house in Canton, China and welcomed the arrival of Elisa. G.T. was busy with sculpture commissions, teaching at 2 universities but still found time for family, his violin and his collection of 78 records of the great Caruso. Anthony arrived in 1935. "BOY" had a special ebony stand in the living room. In 1937, a sudden departure of the family from Canton was made necessary by the Japanese imperial army attack on China and the family and "BOY" took refuge in Hong Kong. In 1941 Victor arrived. This joyful event was followed by the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese. G.T. had to flee from HK and leave his family behind when he refused the command of the conquering general to sculpture for them. BOY stayed with the family and was protected from the bombings of the war by Mrs. Lina Chan. In 1972 BOY came to Vancouver Canada after Anthony and Victor and later Lina moved from HK. He had been shown and received great praise in G.T.'s many exhibitions up until G.T.'s death in 1951.
Recent past: Anthony felt that some of Dad's works should be donated to a museum.
Victor and Judy felt that a personal contact with SMFA Boston and a review of the Archives would be desirable for this to happen. Librarian Aubry Baer, LeeAnn Famolare, Tracy Phillips and Dean Deborah Dluhy formed the link that led to the Museum of Fine Arts acceptance of the Gift of "BOY"
He is to have a "makeover" spa treatment at the Museum and then will enjoy a space in the SMFA W. Van Alan Clark Jr. Library in the company of good friend and classmate Amelia Peabody's sculpture of a girl.
About the author
Victor Chan MD FRCP FACP is a Clinical Associate Professor Medicine at UBC (Div of Nephrology). As well as being a physician, he is also an artist. He is the youngest son of G.T. Chan (sik kwan). Dr Chan's brother (who compiled a collection of photos of G.T. Chan's works) is on a mission of remembrance of G.T. Chan and his art.
Dr. Chan's father had 15 years of training in Boston (SMFA), Paris and Florence before returning to China in 1930. There he was professor of sculpture and Painting in Canton (Guangzhou) until 1937 when the family took refuge in Hong Kong from the Japanese. He died in 1951. Despite the wars he was able to have an illustrious career in his chosen profession.
Dr. Chan advised TFAO that on May 1, 2010, an exhibition of G. T. Chan's works will be held in Vancouver at the Chinese Cultural Centre Gallery, situated appropriately next to the Sun Yat-sen memorial gardens.
This text was rekeyed and reprinted on April 8, 2009 in Resource Library with permission of the author, granted to TFAO on April 4, 2009. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author as follows:
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