HONG KONG - Sotheby’s will present its Largest Fine Chinese Paintings Sale on 4 October, presenting over 360 lots expected to fetch in excess of HK200 million / US$25.6 million*. Several thematic sections will be featured, including Treasures from Afar – Two Overseas Paintings Collections, Calligraphy Works by Dignitaries During the Republic of China, Works of Jincheng and Beijing Artists During the Early 20th Century, alongside exceptional works by masters such as Zhang Daqian, Fu Baoshi, Wu Guanzhong, Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong.
C.K. Cheung, Head of Sotheby's Fine Chinese Paintings Department, said: “This autumn, we are pleased to bring together masterpieces by leading artists from private collections around the world that formed the largest auction of this category at Sotheby’s. Highlights include two valuable collections from both sides of the Atlantic, which boast superb artistic values and serve as a microcosm of the diaspora and market development of this genre over the past fifty years.”
We have also carefully curated Calligraphy Works by Dignitaries During the Republic of China - a section which features the original calligraphies of several influential dignitaries, including Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), to shed light on the sweep of historical events in their times. The section is poised to inspire viewers to reflect on the historical significance behind the writings.”
Treasures from Afar – Two Overseas Painting Collections
Two overseas painting collections, one from England and the other from the United States, are represented in this assemblage. Though started in different period, both collections exhibit the owners’ passion for 20th century Chinese calligraphy and art. Another similarity between them lies in the collectors’ high regard for artists of their time, particularly those who were influenced by Western or Japanese aesthetics. Fu Baoshi, therefore, holds such a prominent place in both collections.
Painstakingly assembled in the 1960s, the collection from England is made up of modern Chinese paintings primarily sourced from an art gallery in London. By comparison, most Modern Chinese paintings in the US collection were acquired from international art auctions. In the early 1980s, New York became the focal point of a booming Chinese art market where ancient Chinese paintings and calligraphy were most sought after. The collector made an early start amassing 20th century modern works, and the finest were added to the collection.
Of the many great masters of Chinese art throughout history, Fu Baoshi was most enamoured with the works of Shi Tao, also known as the “Bitter Gourd Monk”, from the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Several of Fu’s artistic gems drew inspiration from Shi, including Pavilion in the Solitude of the Mountains (est. HK$12 - 15 million). The work was painted in the autumn of 1943, at the height of his career during his stint spent in Chongqing. Unveiling a panorama of mountains half concealed in clouds, the composition shows a pine forest with a humble hermitage tucked away in a remote corner. Seated inside is a recluse, reciting a text. With nobody else in sight, he seems to enjoy the solitude of a life free from worldly hassles, amid the company of pines and white clouds.
An orderly scheme of nature emerges from the thoughtful composition, with the visual details of magnificent mountains and lush foliage interwoven intimately with each other. While mountain contours are portrayed through abrupt, sporadic brushstrokes, the heavy landscape boulders are delineated in a manner to suggest substance. No less remarkable, though, are the fine visual details bestowed to the painting, including the cottage structure and the arrangement of literary texts. Even the recluse’s facial expressions, so subtly portrayed through his brows and beard to convey the appearance of undivided concentration, testify to the artist’s emphasis on details.
Calligraphy Works by Dignitaries During the Republic of China
This section features over 20 original calligraphies by dignitaries who shaped the course of history in the Republic of China era. Among them are the works by revolution forerunner Chen Shaobai, the nation’s founders Huang Xing, Song Jiaoren and Chen Qimei as well as educationist Cai Yuanpei and cultural leader Hu Shi. Equally precious is a rare calligraphy work by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) in the album.
Calligraphy Album by Various Artists (est. HK$200,000 - 300,000) is a souvenir album so titled by Niu Kangmin. The identity and background of Niu, the paintings’ recipient, remain unknown. However, judging by the annotator’s status and honorifics indicated, combined with the chronological order of the calligraphies when they were presented, one could tell that Niu came from an illustrious family and his parents, who were leading figures of the cultural and education circles, were connected to Chiang Kai-shek by matrimony. The extensive web of personal connections they wielded might explain how Niu Kangmin, a possible secondary school graduate, could bring together the calligraphic writings of celebrities from the military, political as well as literary, education and publication sectors. A total of 39 calligraphies, along with two paintings, are collected in this album. The rarest of them is Chiang Kai-shek’s own manuscript. As a personal document dedicated to his close relative, it was penned by Chiang himself, rather than by his secretary as was most other cases. Rare calligraphic works of respected literary and education stalwarts, including Xia Mianzun of Kaiming Bookstore and Wu Yifang of University of Nanking, are also presented.
MORE AUCTION HIGHLIGHTS
Breathtaking vistas of the Three Gorges region around Yangtze River are a familiar theme in Wu Guanzhong’s works. However, it was rare for him to have placed such a singular focus on the Wu Gorge, as he did in this painting. In Wu Gorge (est. HK$7 - 9 million), the majestic silhouette of an interlocking mountain range along the river is profiled by lengthy, continuous lines running through the composition. Flowing from unfettered brushstrokes, the lines are dynamically executed for a heightened visual impact, while revealing the artist’s grasp of nature’s spectacular glory. The composition and style of painting are similar to another magnificent work of the same title by Wu. Measuring 6 X 12 feet, the latter is kept in the National Museum of History in Taipei. Both works are believed to be completed in 1984 when Wu undertook a painting trip across the Yangtze Three Gorges region to Sichuan.
Painted by Xu Beihong in 1935, Buffaloes (est. HK$10 - 20 million) represents the pragmatism and austerity of people in China at that time. This painting features two buffaloes lazing under a tree in a meadow. The blissful and carefree atmosphere is a strong contrast to the artist’s anti-wartime sentiment, more commonly reflected in his work during that period. This painting marks a moment of content for Xu during a time of turbulence.
The earliest of Zhang Daqian’s self-portraitures could be traced to the late 1920s. Self Portrait in the Yellow Mountains (est. HK$8 - 12 million) was executed in 1961, as he turned 63. It also marked a turning point in Zhang’s artistic approach as he shifted from the traditional style of fine delicate brushwork to bold splashed ink and colour in his late oeuvre. Most of his self-portraits lack a distinctive background; however in this painting, the artist depicts himself in a pine forest on Yellow Mountain (Mount Huangshan), being at peace with himself and harmoniously blended into nature. This artistic approach is rarely seen in his other works.
A frontal view of the artist appears on the canvas, both his legs engulfed in swirling fog. Behind him, a spotty ancient pine tree is set against rock layers covered with pine needles, offering a portrayal of Yellow Mountain’s geology. The lower part of the painting is dominated by white blank spaces to connote fog. This visual contrast between mass and void to recreate a scene from nature also provides the painting with a paradise-like backdrop. Despite the spontaneity of Zhang’s xieyi (freehand) style, the portrayal of his own physical likeness, from the eyes to wispy beard, is rendered with realistic details.
Highly pleased with its artistic outcome, Zhang kept the painting with him for a long period until it was presented to his seventh son, Zhang Xinyi. In 1991, Xinyi generously lent the work for the exhibition Challenging the Past — The Paintings of Chang Dai-chien held in Washington, and the work has since then never shown in public for two decades until now.