HONG KONG - Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its 20th Century Chinese Art Spring Sale 2012 on 2 April, offering more than 140 lots at a total estimate of HK$160 million / US$20.5 million*. This sale includes outstanding modernist, abstract, realist, and photographic works, a veritable epitome of the development of Chinese art in the last century. The sale also highlights special sessions devoted to Realism and Photography, placing in context two unique areas in the development of 20th Century Chinese Art. Among the realist paintings are masterpieces by Chen Yifei, Wang Yidong, Luo Zhongli and Li Guijun. Photographic works by Lang Jingshan leads the Photography session, which comprises early photographic art from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The key highlights of this Spring Sale, however, are rarely seen works by the pioneers of Chinese modernism, among them Zao Wou-Ki, Lin Fengmian, Wu Dayu, Chu Teh-Chun and Wu Guanzhong. Without a doubt, these stunning paintings will stir intense bidding in the upcoming sales.
Sylvie Chen, Sotheby’s Head of 20th Century Chinese Art, said, “Acutely attuned to the pulse of art history, we build upon solid and deep professional expertise, devoting ourselves to organizing sales every season. Our tireless efforts have already gained recognition and enthusiastic support from international collectors, creating wave after wave of record sales, bringing forth the finest works of the 20th Century Chinese Art in a market that continues to soar. For our Spring Sale, we have assembled numerous exceptional and rarely seen works from Europe and America by major Chinese artists such as Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, Wu Guanzhong, Chen Yifei and Wang Yidong. Among these masterworks from the 1980s are Zao’s 25.06.86 and Chen’s Lonely Girl, both works marked by impeccable provenance, secured from important European private collectors. In addition, we are organizing two special sessions within this sale: “Realism” and “Photography”, providing a more comprehensive picture of the category for collectors. This sale is surely not to be missed: it provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for collectors to acquire masterpieces.”
Zao Wou-Ki’s crowning masterwork 25.06.86
This sale offers one of Zao Wou-Ki’s most outstanding paintings spanning his career from the 1950s to the 1990s - his 1986 work 25.06.86 (Est. HK$18-28 million/ US$2.3-3.6 million). Acquired by a European private collection decades ago, 25.06.86 makes its debut on the market in this sale. Created at the height of Zao’s international fame and artistic prowess in the 1980s, the painting captured the artist’s ease in following his own instincts in his sensitive, determined and confident application of colours and brushstrokes. This vertically-aligned tripartite composition is exceptional: it is inspired by traditional Chinese landscape painting, executed as early as 1986. Dark purples that seem to suspend in mid-air are placed side by side with deep azure, juxtaposed with vaporous, light grey hues resembling a waterfall. Hazy greys appear in contrast to cobalt blues and metallic browns, infiltrating and expanding in relation to each other, as if currents ebb and flow. The artist commanded his brush in varied weights and with great nuance, leading the viewers into an infinite space where imaginations spread their wings. The wondrous beauty of this canvas is akin to the imaginary landscape depicted in Chinese poet Tao Yuanming’s Peach Blossom Land. Guided by a light breeze, we accompany Zao Wou-Ki along the paths of the Peach Blossom Forest, reposing amidst that dewy horizon where mountains and rivers meet.
Rare sightings of Wu Guanzhong and Chu Teh-Chun masterpieces
This sale also offers Wu Guangzhong’s Victoria Falls dating from the pinnacle of his oil painting career in the 1970s (Est. HK$12-26 million/ US$1.6-3.4million ). The artist made two similar canvasses featuring waterfalls in 1975, one entitled Victoria Waterfall and the other, Victoria Falls, is currently on offer. Compared to the former, Victoria Falls is more compact, the depiction of flowing water within the setting even more adroit. For example, at the bottom left-hand corner, Wu Guanzhong applies greyish-white shades with great skill, his quick, powerful multi-layered brushstrokes capturing the powerful downward gush along with splashes of foam, distinguishing features that differentiate this painting from the other. Multifarious shades and textures of blue and grey add to the vaporous atmosphere to the right half of the composition. There is wondrous contrast of movement versus stillness, of blocks versus lines in the middle of the painting, where the waterfall is strong and tumultuous. In the background, Wu portrays a forest, distant mountains and a blue sky with floating clouds, bringing a sense of calm to the viewer. This work is undoubtedly among the masterpieces from Wu Guanzhong’s mature period, a rare treasure on the current market.
Plus loin (Est. HK $6-8 million/ US$775,000-1.04 million) is a masterpiece by abstract expressionist Chu Teh-Chun during the 1970s, at the cusp of his own stylistic transformation. During that time, Chu skillfully portrayed the images deep in his heart, at the same time reducing the influence of Western thought. Utilizing Eastern wisdom, he constantly reinvented himself - a man living in the West - moulding an artistic world that was uniquely his own. On this large canvas (205 cm x 162 cm), he freely wielded his large paintbrush, sometimes exhibiting poise and grace, at other times appearing to be bold and unrestrained. Chu’s brushstrokes are imposing and powerful: we can visualise his energetic movements and rhythmic musicality as he executed the work, as well as his strong adherence to Eastern aesthetics. The warm, full glow of orange reds and chrome yellows emanate from gloomy shades of aqua blue. Fierce flickers of red flame and patches of white light hint at eternity and the passion and hope for life. Much like Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, this work bursts forth with expectations, unveiling a primal light that is dazzling to the eye.
Highlights of “Realism”
Under the rubric of the “Realism” collection are many works by modern masters. Among them two works stand out: one by Chinese realist masters Chen Yifei and the other by Wang Yidong. Chen Yifei established his international reputation in the mid-1980s, promoted by New York’s Hammer Gallery and Marlborough Gallery respectively, his works enthusiastically received by European and American collectors. Completed in 1999, Lonely Girl (Est. HK$ 6-8 million/US$775,000-1.04 million) was immediately acquired by a private European collector from the Marlborough Gallery. Chen Yifei constantly challenged himself to surpass conventions within the realm of realism, applying his talents in filmmaking beginning in 1993. In this work, he adopted close-up technique and distorted perspective to accentuate a lonely young woman and her surroundings, capturing her solitary, deeply contemplative state of mind through dramatic treatment and tension. The painter creates a moving portrait that far surpasses realist conventions. This work has impeccable provenance and publication record, and is definitely a crowning item in this sale.
Morning Mist in Mengshan (Est. HK$ 6-8 million/ US$775,000-1.04 million) is Wang Yidong’s newest masterpiece, completed only last year. This canvas depicts intimate lovers in a misty, mountainous setting. Majestic and boundless, the composition communicates a sense of contentment typical of the grandeur and loftiness of Chinese landscapes. The young woman appears sweet and innocent; the newly ripened peaches in her left hand match her slightly blushed cheeks. The man behind is down-to-earth and muscular, with broad shoulders and a straight back. Deep in thought, the woman leans against her lover holding a small mirror in her right hand. The man might appear unrefined, yet he is carefully braiding her hair. His love and consideration overflows in this image. The artist captured the expressions, movements and gestures of the characters, appealing to viewers’ emotional response along the way. The natural surrounding is sparse and pristine, where mountains and water meet, accentuating the harmony of nature and man. On the whole, Morning Mist in Mengshan elevates raw beauty, human beauty and spiritual aesthetics to a higher philosophical level. From an artistic point of view, this is the epitome of sublime. For such a new masterwork to be offered on the market is a truly hugely anticipated event.
Walasse Ting glitters on stage
We also have on offer ten pieces dating from the 1970s to the 1980s by Walasse Ting previously owned by a private collector, never before available on the market. These works range from sketches, oil paintings to the artist’s trademark acrylics on Chinese rice paper (xuanzhi). Together they fully demonstrate Ting’s multi-faceted talent. Do You Like Chrysanthemum (Est. HK$ 160,000-240,000/ US$20,700-31,000), uses the Western technique of thick splashes of colours layered on top of each other, adding vivacity and modernity to the traditional female figure of the East. Two Ladies and Two Horses (Est. HK$ 280,000-360,000/US$36,200-46,500; pictured left) is a rare triptych where Ting daringly juxtaposed phosphorous green with fuchsia in his representation of widely-disproportionate horses flanking two women holding flowers, giving this striking work a fully balanced dose of ornamentalism, Fauvism and its uninhibited nature and the delicacy of ink painting of the East.
Focus on China/Hong Kong/Taiwan photographic art
For the first time, we have added a new session to enhance an often-overlooked area in 20th Century Chinese Art, enriching our survey of the many coexisting artistic trends of the time. Fine photographic works are selected from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. And among the artists featured are Lang Jingshan, Taiwan’s “Three Musketeer Photographers” Chang Tsai, Deng Nan-Guang and Lee Ming-tiao, Hong Kong’s Tchan Fou-Li (Chen Fuli) and Leo K.K. Wong, and China’s Zhang Yiquan and Sun Mingjing. Works offered in this sale date from the 1940s to the present day; they contain street scenes of old Shanghai, impassioned, grand landscapes, and beautiful, tender figures. Together, these seventeen works chronicle real life at various points in time.
Hailing from China, Zhang Yinquan’s Little Girl (Est. HK$ 25,000-30,000/ US$3,250-3,900) captures a striking image of a young girl through her hair, facial features and hands. The artist set his stage very well: the slightly embarrassed look on the girl’s face matches her innocence and vivacity perfectly. Chinese photographer Lang Jingshan created overlapping visual montage through the manipulation of negatives in the dark room, creating a photographic style that’s painterly. Peak Fantasia (Est. HK$ 180,000-200,000/US$23,300-25,800) on offer in this sale is among the masterpieces of this technique. A work by one of Taiwan’s “Three Musketeer Photographers,” Chang Tsai’s Rich and Poor (Est. HK$ 30,000-60,000/US$3,900-7,800) chronicles women selling beverages and rickshaw men drinking tea, while smartly dressed Caucasians stand behind, engendering strong contrasts. The juxtaposition of refinement and dissonance is typical of Chang Tsai’s Shanghai series. Hong Kong photographer Tchan Fou-Li (Chen Fuli), whose work Dawn Light (Est. HK$ 25,000-35,000/US$3,250-4,550) is on offer, travelled numerous times to Guilin, the Yellow Mountain, and the Tibetan plateau. Moved by the magnificence of natural landscapes, he advocated a new photographic style incorporating “painterly spirit and realism.” Employing realistic images as foundation, the camera lens captures painterly shades that emphasize colours, lines and composition, heralding a new style of Chinese landscape photography.
* Estimates do not include buyer’s premium