Oil on Canvas | 120cm x 120cm | The Cicada and the Plum Series
The Wedding Night of Puyi and Wanrong is the seventh painting in a series called The Cicada and the Plum concerning itself with the transition of a four thousand year old culture into the modern era. The paintings reflect a sense of timelessness, a sense of theatre, of role-play, curiosity and yet a deep sense of caution. Inspiration comes from antique photographs of Chinese culture from the 1800s and noticing how so many of those images could have been taken even centuries before the camera had even been invented. Chinese culture had persevered through intense infiltration from the rest of the world, unchanged, and this series explores the moment just before the modern era seeped into it via a series of intimate portraits of various protagonists of the era.
In this painting there is a sense of alienation, personified in the disparate figurative styles of the last Emperor and Empress of China. Puyi is rigid and distant, looking the opposite way to his new wife and Wanrong is presented like Botticelli’s Venus in a gesture of self awareness but with a strong feeling of certainty.
Typically of this series, the work is filled with symbolism. Puyi holds a bird in a gilded cage, reflecting his early life as a prisoner in the Forbidden City and he still has his queue hairstyle symbolising his adherence to Imperial Court life. Wanrong, clutches a scroll symbolising her European education and the poppies are an omen of her future demise to opium addiction withdrawal. the holes in their tunics represent the good luck that wasn’t there. Past paintings from the series show good luck symbols on the subjects’ tunics. In this case they aren’t there.