A Chinese artist in the Lake District (1930s)

An exhibition is currently running in the English Lake District, which celebrates the work of a Chinese artist, poet and travel writer who visited the area in the 1930s.

Chiang Yee, who grew up in Jiangxi, wrote an illustrated journal about his visit to the area in 1936, which was published the following year with the title The Silent Traveller: A Chinese Artist in Lakeland.

Chiang wrote about ‘the particular joy’ of his time in the Lake District, which is now a national park, saying it was ‘the most agreeable period of all my English experience’. He describes it as ‘constantly green, beautiful and peaceful’ and at the end of his visit, he wrote ‘I leave this Lakeland, and with longing seek to return’.

The exhibition, at Low Wood Bay Resort Hotel on the shores of Windermere, England’s longest lake, will include illustrations and poems from the book. It will run from 16 February to 31 October 2015.

Chiang, who had left China in 1933, missed the lakes and mountains that he had grown up  with. He was born at the foot of Lu Shan. The Lake District, which is also known as Lakeland, is famous for its scenery of lakes and mountains and attracts visitors from across the world. The area includes castles, historic houses and forests and quaint, picturesque villages. It is also popular with people who enjoy walking, cycling and sailing.

Arriving at Wastwater, in the west of the Lake District, in August 1936 Chiang wrote:

‘This morning I paid my visit to the lake and mountain,

They smiled at me like relatives and friends.’

Chiang was also attracted to the Lake District partly because of its links with English poets like William Wordsworth, who lived there, as well as famous artists who had visited and painted the area, such as John Constable and J M W Turner. He shared their love of natural beauty and their desire to capture it in their work.

In the north of the Lake District at Derwentwater he wrote:

‘The loveliness of Nature,

And Derwentwater that I love,

Folded in and cloaked with green,

Sitting for a while to enjoy tranquillity’

At Windermere, Chiang took a trip on one of the boats that travel up and down the lake. He quoted Wordsworth:

‘Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays,

A universe of Nature’s fairest forms

Proudly revealed with instantaneous burst,

Magnificent, and beautiful and gay.’

Chiang adds ‘Oh, Windermere, Windermere, you will draw me back to you again soon!’

He also visited William Wordsworth’s famous home, which is close to Grasmere, one of the Lake District’s smallest lakes, writing of ‘the very deep feeling of my heart for the lake and the poet’.

The poet and literary critic Herbert Read described Chiang as, ‘a master of the art of landscape painting’ and his art work as ‘… the modern expression of national tradition’.

Anna Wu, an Assistant curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which held an exhibition of his work in 2012, said: “Chiang breathed new life into many of Britain’s most iconic landscapes and landmarks in a unique style that allowed them to be both instantly recognisable and yet different looking; capturing the essence rather than an exact visual record of the subject.”

 Chiang Yee

Chiang uses a mix of descriptive narrative and illustrations to convey the distinctive character of the Lakeland landscape and the people he met during his two-week stay. The book is also interwoven with references to China, and reflections on Chinese cultural history and traditions.

Colin Fox from English Lakes Hotels, which own the Low Wood Bay, says: “We are delighted to be hosting this exhibition of work by Chiang Yee nearly one hundred years after he visited the area. The Lake District is associated with some of Britain’s most famous poets and  artists. This exhibition will show how Chiang made his own distinctive contribution to the artistic legacy of the Lake District.”

Chiang Yee went on to produce other books in The Silent Traveller series, recounting visits to other parts of Great Britain, including Edinburgh and the Yorkshire Dales, as well as travels in America.

Chiang also wrote books on Chinese painting and calligraphy and is credited with creating the Chinese translation for Coca Cola 可口可乐.

Chiang died in China in October 1977 after spending over forty years away from his homeland. He is buried on the slopes of Lu-Shan.

Low Wood Bay Resort Hotel is a luxury hotel with stunning views across Lake Windermere to some of the Lake District’s most famous mountains. During the exhibition, the hotel will be serving a special afternoon tea, which are very popular in England, with Chinese teas.

For more information about the exhibition and the Low Wood Bay Resort Hotel visit www.englishlakes.co.uk/ChiangYee

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