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Chen Chi Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: ASE
Date: Dec 1993

Biographical History

Chen Chi (1912-2005) was a Chinese-American painter know for his watercolors.

Born in Wusih, Kiangsu, China, at the age of 14 Chen took a job in Shanghai at an oil pressing company to help support his family, eventually rising to be treasurer of the company. With his ascending rank came more time and money which Chen spent on his growing interest in, and talent for, painting. By 1930 he had decided to leave the company to make his way as an artist, and entered art school in Shanghai in 1931. During his student days (briefly interrupted by the Japanese invasion of Shanghai) Chen was a member of the White Swan Art Club, a group of students interested in Western materials, artists, and techniques, particularly the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Unlike some of his fellow students, Chen did not completely abandon the traditions of Chinese art, instead creating a unique blend of East and West in his work. In addition to producing his own work, Chen taught drawing and watercolor, first at a girls' school (1937-1942) and then at St. John's University in Shanghai (1942-1946).

In 1947 Chen Chi came to the States on a cultural exchange program. He traveled and exhibited extensively throughout the U.S., building up an international reputation; by 1964 he had become a United States citizen, and his illustrations were appearing in major American magazines including the Ford Motor Company Magazine, Colliers, Sports Illustrated, and Horizon. Chi's first book, Aquarelles de Chen Chi, was published in 1942; other published works include Chen Chi - Paintings (1965), Two or Three Lines from the Sketchbooks of Chen Chi (1969), China from the Sketchbooks of Chen Chi (1974), Chen Chi: Watercolors, Drawings,Sketches (1980), Chen Chi Watercolors (1981), and Heaven and Water: Chen Chi (1983).

Chen's first one-man show was in Shanghai in 1940; since then his work has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, Corcoran Gallery, Grand Central Art Galleries, Metropolitan Museum in New York, National Academy of Design, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Chen Chi Museums at Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, and in his hometown of Wusih bear witness to the respect he earned in his native country, and he was the only artist chosen to exhibit at the First World Cultural Summit in Versailles in 2000. When he died in August of 2005, attendees of his memorial service at the National Arts Club included the Chinese ambassador and the General Manager of the Bank of China, and his obituary in the New York Times included this praise:

[Chen's] life's work [was] to bring together the sensibilities of the East and the West in his paintings. A poet and a philosopher as well as a painter, Chi's object was to bring the whole of his personality into his paintings, reflecting not only his visual interpretation but the entire range of his emotions, spirit and intellect. (New York Times, August 14, 2005)

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Spanning 1941 to 1971, the Chen Chi Papers comprises biographical material, artwork, writings, and memorabilia. The collection, which consists mostly of printed material, illuminates the professional life of the Chinese-American painter.

Biographical material is sparse and contains only a few miscellaneous items.

Artwork includes Chen's works reproduced in Collier's, Horizon, Lincoln-Mercury Times, an Irving Trust Company portfolio, a poster for the Church World Service Refugee Settlement Program, two American Artists Group greeting cards, and a postcard.

A statement on art, poems, and typescript speeches constitute Writings.

Memorabilia consists of articles and reviews (1951-1960), exhibition catalogs and invitations (1948-1971), and other printed material.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is arranged alphabetically by type or title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Chen, Chi, 1912-


Art, American -- 20th century.
Chinese Americans.
Painters -- United States.
Painting, American -- 20th century.

Genres and Forms

Exhibition catalogs.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Chen Chi Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Provenance unknown.

Table of Contents

Biographical material