06 September 2015

Translation: A French Artist Pays Homage to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Donating a Painting

This article by Xinhua News Agency was originally published on CCTV on September 2, 2015 in French.

For the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, a French artist, Christian Poirot, has created a moving painting to commemorate the Nanjing massacre, and he will give it away at Memorial Hall in Nanjing, China in December.

Titled “Delivrance” (“Release”), the painting has impressive dimensions: 2.35 meters tall and 7.46 meters wide, it’s the largest painting that Poirot has ever created.

It shows numerous violent scenes that took place during the massacre in 1937, confronting the viewer with the bloody trials the victims endured. Over more than six weeks, from December 13, 1937 to January 1938, the Nanjing massacre, perpetrated by the invading Japanese, caused the deaths of more than 300,000 Chinese civilians.

Poirot explained to Xinhua the reasons why he created this painting: “So that the whole world could see the work painted through the eyes of a European, the horror inflicted on innocents sacrificed in the name of a Japanese Fascist ideology!”

Two years ago, when the painter was living in China and working on landscape paintings, he was touched by a TV show. Stunned, he saw Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit the Yakusuni shrine to pay homage to those who died while serving the Japanese Empire.

“He visited the samurai, yes, but also war criminals. When I saw that, I exploded,” exclaimed Poirot. 

A little while later, Chinese friends invited him to visit Nanjing’s Memorial Hall where he was profoundly moved by the homage that was payed to the victims of the massacre. When he returned home, he began to read books written by Chinese historians in order to get to know this tragedy and its ins and outs. Soon after, he felt the need to act.

“I said, for these people who welcome me with kindness, I am going to make a painting.”

In January 2015, he went to work. Each morning, he woke up and read about the Nanjing massacre in order to stay connected to the reality of what had happened before going to his studio to paint.

Working mainly with a palette knife, Poirot painted his characters in a non-realistic but deeply expressive style. The shapes of the characters are fragmented, revealing images within images and multiple layers in each scene.

When he finally unveiled his painting, Poirot told Xinhua that this had been a period when he had worked each day with the same pain that the characters in his painting had experienced, so giving this painting away as a gift is also a form of release for him. “It’s necessary to look deep inside the self in order to do a painting,” he explained. 

For the French painter, other representations of the massacre, especially among his Chinese counterparts, are too reserved, often showing the dead, but in a sober and distant manner. So, he chose a different point of view and decided to show the Nanjing victims as they were being killed, rather than representing them as already dead.

“I am a French artist who has studied through discursive knowledge, which is acquired through study and reasoning. Since we are dealing with a massacre scene, my characters take on several feelings, such as pain, fear, anguish, horror and terror,” he continued. 

The painting he has created is full of somber, turbulent and fragmented images depicting dozens of massacre scenes. On the canvas, the audience sees Japanese soldiers killing civilians for sport and entertainment, while orphaned children look on fearfully having lost their families. 

“Through my painting, I believe that one can see some scenes, one can see the pain, all those feelings of fear, hate, anguish,” explained Poirot.

However, the artist also discovered his own limits, realizing that he could not represent some of the more violent acts recorded in the annals of history of the massacre. Instead, he painted doves departing from the bodies of the victims as a symbol of peace and life.

“It’s like they say, you can take my body, but not my soul!” he declared.

He explained that he had initially wanted to paint doves forming a map of China in the sky, but the format of the painting made this impossible, and he hopes that the audience will be able to imagine what he was unable to include in his canvas. 

“First of all, a painting is always the joy of the eyes it draws, and then the joy of the mind that is captivated, and then there is the joy in the heart that retains the work,” declared the artist.

The decisions to create the painting was obvious for Poirot. Even if it can easily gross 300,000 euros or more, the painting represents a gesture of friendship toward China.

“The gift is simply because I learned to get to know the Chinese people, who touched me with their kindness,” he affirmed. Moved by the characters who had welcomed him during his travels across China, he decided that such a gesture was the strongest way to show his appreciation.

The French painter has not always had a relationship with China. It was only in 2009 when a friend invited him to visit China that Poirot got to know the hospitality of Chinese culture. Since then, he has returned at least nine times, and his paintings, often joyful, are representations of China’s urban landscape. Indeed, the macabre images of “Release” diverge from his usual work, which is luminous, colorful and suggestive of happiness.

According to the painter, “Release” will become part of the collection of the Nanjing Memorial Hall, and he hopes that one day, this painting will be exhibited permanently so that visitors can see his rendition of the massacre. Poirot is currently working on new paintings, including a collaborative project with a Chinese painter.

Formerly a chemist, Poirot began painting at 26 when a work accident left him disabled. Having first studied at the regional level, and then the national level in Paris, the Alsace native quickly developed both his passion and technique. In his career, Poirot has had a lot of success, having won prizes in France and the UK, as well as having held exhibitions in galleries in various countries. Two of his paintings are in the collection of former French President Jacques Chirac, who bought them during an exhibit in Paris.

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