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Resources > Collections > Artist Cheng Shifa 程十发

Cheng Shifa程十发 (1921-2007)

Cheng was born in Shanghai, China, given name Cheng Tong. He moved to Songjiang district with his family when he was 3 years old. His father, a physician from three generations of physicians in the family, died when he was eight, leaving his mother to raise him. Since young, Cheng was surrounded by works of art and had a passion for ancient literature. When the Japanese forces reduced Songjiang to rubble in 1937, he stopped schooling and enrolled at the Shanghai Academy of Fine Art (上海美术专科学校) in 1938.  There, he was mentored by several teachers, Wang Gefang (王个簃), Li Zhongqian (李仲乾) and Wang Shengyuan (汪声远) at the Chinese Painting Department. It was Li Zhongqian who gave the name “Shifa” to Cheng, who continued to use this moniker throughout his artistic career. Cheng graduated from the academy in 1941.

Cheng worked at a bank to support his family when he could not depend on making art alone. He fell ill and left the job, then worked as an illustrator while recuperating. Shortly after the liberation of Shanghai in 1949, he joined the Shanghai Peoples’ Fine Arts Publishing House (上海人民美术出版社) as a professional artist and the Shanghai Chinese Painting Academy (上海中国画) as a teacher in 1956.  He became its President in 1984 and remained their honorary President in his twilight years.

A leading figure in Chinese modern art history, Cheng was revered as a bridge between tradition and modernity. He combined traditional Chinese brushwork and his personal style, emphasizing the beauty of the line through a harmonious synthesis of heavy and light strokes, ink variations and use of colour. The result is simple yet expressive. His works often referenced stories from history, literature and poems, offering insights into life and society that could be understood by young and old. His unique depictions of the ethnic minority groups in Yunnan were highly influential, they sought to connect and unite the Chinese and his patriotic views won the respect of the Chinese government.

Seminal works by Cheng were featured in illustrated short classics such as The True Story of Ah Q (阿Q正传) by Chinese writer Lu Xun and Dreams of the Red Mansion (红楼梦) by Cao Xueqin. Over the years, he won numerous prizes and awards for his work, within China and abroad. Also, he gave lectures and held exhibitions in Japan, Singapore, the United States, Australia and Hongkong, published several art books and judged at national painting exhibitions. In 1991, Cheng was awarded the title of National Advance Cultural Worker (全国先进文化工作者称号) and was honoured as ‘People’s Artist’ by the State Ministry of Culture for his contributions to the Chinese art scene. He passed away at age 86 in Shanghai in 2007.