For the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, French painter Christian Poirot has created an emotional painting to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre, and which he will donate to the Nanjing Memorial Hall in December.
Titled "Deliverance," the painting measures an impressive 3.25 meters tall by 7.46 meters wide, and is the largest Poirot has ever made. It depicts numerous scenes of the violence that occurred during the 1937 massacre, confronting the viewer with the bloody ordeal suffered by the victims.
Lasting over six weeks, from December 13, 1937, until January of 1938, the Nanjing Massacre saw the deaths of as many as 300,000 Chinese civilians at the hands of Japanese invaders.
Poirot spoke to Xinhua about why he created his painting. "So that the entire world would be able to see the work painted with European eyes, the horror inflicted on the innocents and sacrificed in the name of fascist Japanese ideology."
Two years ago, the painter was living in China and working on cityscape paintings, when he was shocked by a television news program he saw in his hotel room. Astonished, he saw Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where those killed serving the Japanese Empire are honored.
"He visited the samurais, yes, but also war criminals. When I saw that, I exploded," Poirot exclaimed.
Shortly after, Chinese friends invited him to tour the Nanjing Memorial Hall where he was deeply moved by the homage paid to the victims of the massacre. Returning home, he began reading books by Chinese historians, in order to learn the history of the tragedy, and to become steeped in the details of the event. Before long, he felt the need to act.
"I said, for these people who always welcomed me with such kindness, I will make a painting."
In January 2015 he set to work. Every morning he woke up and read about the Nanjing Massacre to remain connected to the reality of what happened, before entering his studio to paint.
Working primarily with a spatula, Poirot painted his figures in a non-realist style, but one which is still deeply expressive. The characters' forms are fragmented, showing images within images, and revealing multiple layers to every scene.
When he finally unveiled the finished piece, Poirot told Xinhua that it was a period in which he worked every day with the same pain as the figures in his painting are seen experiencing, and so to donate the painting was also a form of deliverance for him.
"It is necessary to examine oneself deep within in order to paint," he explained.
The painter felt that other depictions of the massacre, particularly among his Chinese peers, had been too reserved, often showing the dead, but in manners that were sober and aloof. The French painter decided a different perspective was needed. He decided to show the people of Nanjing being killed, instead of already dead.
"I am a French artist having studied discursive knowledge through the study of reasoning. Regarding a scene of massacre, my characters wear many emotions, such as pain, fear, anguish, horror and terror," he continued.
The painting he created was full of dark, turbulent, and fragmented images portraying dozens of scenes from the massacre. On the canvas, viewers see Japanese soldiers killing civilians for sport and amusement, while solitary children look on in fear after having lost their families.
"With my painting, I think one sees the scenes, one sees the pain, all the feelings of fear, hate, and anguish," Poirot explained.
The artist discovered his own limits, however, finding that he could not depict some of the more brutal acts recorded in histories of the massacre. Instead, he painted doves flying up from those being killed, as a sign of peace and life, even as the victims lost their bodies.
"It's as if they are saying, you can take my body, but never my soul!" he declared.
He explained that he had originally wanted to have the doves form a geographical map of China, but that the format of the painting had made it impossible, even if he hoped that viewers could still imagine what he had not been able to include.
"A painting, first, it is always the joy of the eyes which attract, then comes the joy of the spirit which captivates, and after, the joy of the heart holds on to the work," the painter declared.
The decision to donate the painting was obvious to Poirot. Even though it would easily be valued at 300,000 euros or more, the painting represented a gesture of friendship toward China.
"The donation was simply because I came to know the Chinese people, who touched me with their kindness," he affirmed. Moved by the people who had welcomed him during his trips through China, he felt that such a gift was the strongest way to demonstrate his appreciation.
The French painter did not always have a relationship with China. It was only in 2009, however, when a friend invited him to visit China, that Poirot first experienced Chinese hospitality and culture. He has visited as many as nine times since, often painting joyous depictions of the Chinese cityscapes while there. Indeed, the macabre images of "Deliverance" differ from his usual work, which is bright, colorful, and suggesting happiness.
According to the painter, "Deliverance" will be a part of the collection of the Nanjing Memorial Hall, and he hopes it will one day be put in the permanent exhibition in order for visitors to see his rendering of the massacre. He is currently working on new paintings, including a collaborative project with a Chinese painter.
A former employee in the chemical industry, Poirot began painting at the age of 26 when an accident on the job left him unable to return to work. Studying first at the regional level and then at the national level in Paris, the native of Alsace quickly developed both passion and technique.
In his career Poirot enjoyed growing success, with prizes earned in France and the United Kingdom, as well as gallery showings in several countries. He was honored when two paintings on exhibition in Paris were selected by former French President Jacques Chirac for his collection.