HONG KONG - Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its 20th Century Chinese Art Autumn Sale 2009 on 6 October, offering collectors a superb opportunity to acquire rare and premium works by some of the most celebrated and important 20th century Chinese artists. A total of over 60 lots will be offered, estimated at approximately HK$81 million/ US$10.4 million.
Lily Lee, Head of the 20th Century Chinese Art Department, said, “We are delighted to offer this season an array of exquisite works that are fresh to the market boasting excellent provenance, led by Sanyu’s Lotus et Poissons Rouges that has now resurfaced after over half a century. Alongside, we have assembled seminal oeuvres by masters including Zao Wou-ki, Liao Chi-Chun, Wu Dayu, and Ju Ming. I believe that our sale will generate much interest from collectors both near and afar.”
Featured prominently this season is Sanyu’s (Chang Yu, 1901-1966) monumental Lotus et Poissons Rouges (Lotus and Red Fish; Est. HK$15-25 million). Executed in the mid 1950’s, Lotus et Poissons Rouges is not only a magnificent work from the peak of Sanyu’s career, but is also the largest painting (116.8 X 179 cm.) by the artist ever to appear at auction. Completely fresh to the market, this incredibly rare masterpiece has been unseen by the public for over 50 years. It has already aroused tremendous interest from the market, and is destined to draw furious biddings.
Madame Helen Gee, an historian and specialist in photography and wife of Chinese master Yun Gee, visited Sanyu’s studio in 1956. On this occasion a photograph was taken of Madame Gee and Sanyu standing in front of Lotus et Poissons Rouges, which confirms the importance and artistic significance of this work as Sanyu selected only his favorite works to be displayed on the walls of his studio in Paris.
Lotus et Poissons Rouges depicts flowers, landscape and small fish in the water in a rich and delicate composition. It differs in mood and temperament from his earlier lotus paintings and from his landscapes of the same period as well. Sanyu seems to have rediscovered the symbolism of the lotus so deeply rooted in his own Chinese heritage: an auspicious motif representing strength, purity and aspiration to pursue the highest ideals. On the other hand, the bent lotus stem suggests the artist’s flexibility in overcoming the harshest difficulties, as though Sanyu were reminding himself to be proud and to persevere through hardship.
The composition of Lotus et Poissons Rouges references Giant Lotus by Zhang Daqian - another well-esteemed great master of the time. Sanyu’s interpretation is distilled and simplified, leading to an expressive canvas that exhibits the artist’s minimalist sensibility. Its inclusion in the Salon des Indépendants exhibition in Paris in 1956 further enhances the importance of this work, since only a few of Sanyu’s top pieces were selected each year for the exhibition.
Another gem of the sale is Zao Wou-ki’s (Zhao Wuji, b. 1921) 7.4.61 (Est. HK$8-12 million). Late 1950s to early 1960s is a period of transition for Zao’s artistic direction and creation, during which his works evolved from narration and representation – largely inspired by oracle-shell inscriptions – into more abstract expressions. However, Zao’s abstract art is unique as one can find its roots in Chinese culture and art, emanating an essence of oriental aesthetics and philosophy, setting him apart from other abstract painters. The present work on offer, created on 7 April, 1961 is a rare and exemplary piece that epitomizes such a significant and prominent transformation of Zao’s artistic career. Of particular note, the work embodies the spirit of nature from where the artist draws his inspiration with lyrical calligraphic brushworks.
Another significant offering is Ju Ming’s (Zhu Ming, b. 1938) Taichi Series – Taichi Arch (Est. HK$ 7.5 – 10 million) of which another edition can be found in the collection of the Ju Ming Museum in Taiwan where it is on permanent display. Ju Ming’s Taichi Series is widely regarded as his most important body of work. It has won him international acclaim, which has seen him establish himself as the leading Asian sculptor. With its 4.2m width, 2.8m height and 1.56m depth, Taichi Arch is the largest sculpture by Ju ever to appear at auction.
Taichi Arch is evolved and inspired by the ‘push hand’ movement between two practitioners in Taichi boxing. In the present lot, the sculpture is larger in scale and rendered more abstract than earlier works in his Taichi Series. Ju masters the subtle nuances of his subject and material: as he sculpts, the sheer weight of the material is transformed into the smooth motions of Taichi, creating vivid and lively postures. The series conveys the essence of his aesthetic views and creative philosophy, as well as his respect for nature.
Two paintings by Liao Chi-Chun (Liao Ji Chun, 1902-1976) titled Tamkang Scenery (Est. HK$5.5-6.5 million) and Bridge (Est. HK$3.6-4.5 million) are further highlights of the sale. Liao is famed for his carefree yet sensitive use of colours, which lends his works an original and inimitable flair. Tamkang Scenery, executed in 1971, is a bird’s-eye view of Taiwan’s Tamsui river basin, with Mount Kuan-yin looming on the opposite bank. Its vibrant colours stem purely from the artist’s imagination, and he portrays his favorite town using the perspective and style preferred by Impressionist masters. Not only does this painting highlight the local character of Taiwan, it also achieves a serene harmony which embodies the realm of Liao’s artistic maturity.
Complimenting this work is Bridge, an excellent example of balance between careful control of color saturation and crisp, heavy rhythm, which is one of the characteristics of Liao’s unique semi-abstract painting style. This piece was completed in 1963, after Liao returned from his first visit to the United States where his overseas exposure provided him with inspiration and subsequently fuelled a new peak in his artistic creation.
Wu Dayu (1903-1988) left China in 1922 to further his studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in France. After returning to China, he took on a realistic approach in his creations, which he later abandoned towards the end of his artistic career as he moved towards using a more philosophical approach in his art. Shao Dazhen, professor of Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, argues that Wu did not solely embrace abstractionism, instead Wu wandered between realism and abstractionism. Wu had a profound grasp of the essence of Western modern art, whilst he was capable of rendering the exquisite kind of subtlety found in Chinese art.
Both Rhymes of Beijing Opera (Est. HK$2-2.5 million) and Rhythm No. 21 (Est. HK$2-2.5 million) on offer, exemplify Wu’s distinctive style: the heavy use of colours in different hues of blues and tints of yellow, coupled with forceful brushstrokes that inject dynamism and energy to the paintings. Rhymes of Beijing Opera, depicting a performer wearing an opera mask, brings Beijing opera to life through a semi-abstract expression. On the other hand, Rhythm No. 21, emanates the allure of flowers, plants and captivating landscape and Wu’s unmistakably vivacious brushworks and use of striking colours.
3W is a trio formed by Beijing artists Wei Rong (b. 1963), Wu Erlu (b. 1948) and Wang Hao (b.1963). Named after their joint studio, the three began to collaborate because of their shared similarities in artistic aspirations and style. Since their union in the 1990s, the trio has produced over a hundred pieces. 3W is renowned for its innovative style and postmodern approach that present traditional imagery and icons with a modern, satirical twist.
Executed in 2007, Tea Tasting (Est. HK$1.8-2.5 million) epitomizes the trio’s style through a play on the depiction of a tea drinking ceremony. Here a long established ceremony and classical figures are juxtaposed against the presence of Japanese geisha and contemporary women dressed fashionably in leather and denim, who play music for the ancient duo.
Also on offer are Shiy De-jinn’s (Xi Dejin, 1923-1981) Yin Landscape (Est. HK$180,000-250,000) and Red Leaves on the Mountain (Est. HK$120,000-180,000), both dated 1963, marking the debut appearance of Shiy’s 1960s abstract paintings at auction. The artist drew inspiration from Chinese landscape and ancient culture. Among the layers of colours with strong contrasts, viewers are presented the beauty and passion of wildness.
Both paintings were previously acquired by American collectors Mr. and Mrs. Clyde and Loretta Slaton. Of note, the family of Mrs. Slaton (maiden name Ng) was acquainted with the late Soong Mei-Ling.