HONG KONG - Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Sales 2014 will take place from 4 to 8 April at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The 20th Century Chinese Art category will present a line-up of exceptional abstract and realist works, showcasing the various facets of modern Chinese art. Important works by renowned Chinese artists living in Paris such as Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Wu Guanzhong will again be the highlights of the Modern and Contemporary Asian Art – Evening Sale taking place on 5 April. Leading the Sale is Potted Chrysanthemums – a previously unrecorded, seminal 1950s painting by modern Chinese master Sanyu. This large-format museum-quality masterpiece was especially chosen by the artist to participate in the Jansonne Triennial Art Exhibition in France in 1958, and is now being offered at auction for the first time in over half a century (see separate press release). The 20th Century Chinese Art Day Sale taking place on 6 April will present an array of exemplary works by Chinese artists in North America, including Yun Gee and Wang Yidong. The two sales together will offer more than 200 lots with an estimated total value of over HK$240 million / US$31 million*.
Sylvie Chen, Head of 20th Century Chinese Art Department, said: “This season, the 20th Century Chinese Art category will showcase the various facets of modern Chinese art in its Day and Evening Sales respectively. Seminal works by celebrated artists including Sanyu, Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Wu Guanzhong will be offered, including the previously unrecorded Potted Chrysanthemums by Sanyu, as well as a series of representative pieces by Zao Wou-Ki from the Hangzhou Period to Infinite Period spanning over 1945 to 1988, which provides an exceptional opportunity for collectors to acquire top quality and rare works by Zao executed in the pivotal periods of his artistic career. The Sales will also present an encompassing selection of both abstract and realist works by some of the leading figures in the field, such as Chen Yifei, Luo Zhongli, Lui Liu and many more.”
(A) HIGHLIGHTS FROM MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ASIAN ART – EVENING SALE (5 APRIL)
Sanyu (1901 – 1966), Potted Chrysanthemums
Circa 1950s, oil on masonite, 130 x 74 cm
Expected to fetch in excess of HK$40 million / US$5.1 million
Potted Chrysanthemums is a seminal 1950s piece by modern Chinese master Sanyu. Previously unrecorded, this large-format museum-quality masterpiece belongs to the artist’s celebrated Potted Flower Series, and was especially chosen by the artist to participate in the Jansonne Triennial Art Exhibition in France in 1958. This work uses an upward-extending form suggestive of traditional Chinese scrolls and screens to portray a Western still-life subject – a pot of French marigolds with verdant foliage. The elegant plant stands proud and tall, asserting its honourable spirit and integrity, as though a metaphor of the artist’s own extraordinary yet solitary existence. The graceful use of ravishing shades of emerald green makes reference to Chinese lacquerware traditions, while the greatly simplified background of pure red and bright yellow reflects the influence of both French and American post-war Abstractionism, including Mark Rothko. The majestic Potted Chrysanthemums boasts a rich composition on masonite, and only the prestigious Sanyu collection from the National Museum of History in Taiwan has a group of works of comparable quality by the artist. Compared with its sister painting of the same English title, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2012, the present Potted Chrysanthemums displays an even more nuanced and graceful splendour although they share a similar creative approach. Sanyu’s oil paintings are highly prized among collectors for its rarity, and the auction debut of Potted Chrysanthemums since its creation over half a century ago is set to cause great excitement among collectors.
Chen Yifei (1946 - 2005), Morning Prayer, 1996, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm
Est. HK$25 – 35 million / US$3.2 – 4.5 million
Chen Yifei returned to China in the 1990s to ambitiously embark on an aesthetic reform. It was during this period that the Tibetan Series was executed, featuring some of his most brilliant albeit final works. Morning Prayer is an important piece from the Series, and it represented China to take part in the Venice Biennale in 1997. Delineated in the painting is a morning prayer ritual at a Tibetan household, wherein the religious devotion of Tibetans, their strong sense of family unity and passion for life are emphasised. Reflecting the artist’s experiences from an extended stay in Tibet, it is prized for its intellectual value as much as for the sentiments of humanitarian warmth conveyed. The work employs a bold, rugged painting style, revealing the influence of Soviet art which the artist was exposed to in his early artistic career. In terms of visual composition and effect, it is imbued with an indelible cinematic feeling, attributable to the artist’s experiences in movie directing at the time. Morning Prayer has since become an iconic piece for its fresh take on modernity, heralding a new direction in the development of realist art.
(B) HIGHLIGHTS FROM 20TH CENTURY CHINESE ART DAY SALE (6 APRIL)
Zao Wou-Ki (1920 - 2013) La course (The Race), 1949, oil on panel, 27.3 x 35.3 cm
Est. HK$2.8 – 3.8 million / US$359,000 – 487,000
In 1948, Zao Wou-Ki began a long sojourn in France that immersed him in the abundant beauty of the nature and art of the Western world. Such exposure subsequently inspired the fusion of Western and Oriental aesthetics in the artist’s works. Completed a year later, La course is one of the few works which Zao executed during his early years in France and, therefore, is treasured for its rarity. Chronicling the artist’s experiences and explorations, La course describes the spectacle of a racecourse with its wide green expanse, where a few horses can be seen racing ahead at lightning speed, generating plenty of thrills and excitement in the wake. Zao’s colour application draws from the school of Fauvism, resulting in a spotted texture akin to the surface of ancient Chinese bronze waves. The artist’s narrative style and the mono-dimensional sense of space created also suggest the influences of Han-dynasty hand-carved stone steles.
Works by Chinese Artists in North America
A specially-curated section Chinese Artists in North America will be featured in the Day Sale, which will review the development and achievements by Chinese artists in North America over the past century. Works by Yun Gee, Wang Yidong, Liu Kuo-Sung, Chao Chung-hsiang and David Wu Ject-Key, among others, will be highlighted.
Yun Gee (1906 - 1963) Self-Portrait, circa 1927, oil on canvas, 48 x 38 cm
Est. HK$3.8 – 5 million / US$487,000 – 641,000
A pioneer in developing his artistic career in the United States, Yun Gee’s dazzling talent was evident in the 1920s. Self-Portrait, the cover lot of 20th Century Chinese Art Day Sale, is regarded as a representative work from his “San Francisco” period. Steeped in Synchronism, the colours and composition give shape to the painting’s visual structure to portray the artist’s youthful self. Geometric forms are also employed to construct his face and upper body to foment an image of maturity and intelligence. The semi-abstract light swirls in the background make for a contrast of motion and stillness, vividly defining the moment when the artist turns back with a gaze. For this ingenious technique, the painting qualifies itself as a significant work of modern Chinese self-portraits.
Wang Yidong (b. 1955) Snowing in March, 1988, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm
Est. HK$4.5 – 6 million / US$577,000 – 769,000
The 1980s saw the foray of Chinese realism into the Western art circle. A testament to this is Wang Yidong’s Snowing in March, which was featured in an exhibition catalogue published by Hefner Gallery in New York a year after the painting’s completion. Appearing at auction for the first time, the work is marked by a delicate style of realism, where a snow scene from the artist’s home town in Yi Meng in Shangdong province is recreated to connote the dawn of an auspicious year and promise of plentiful harvest. As a pivotal work in Regionalism, the painting shows how Wang skillfully portrays folk culture. The little girl depicted is garbed in a floral-motif Chinese jacket, injecting a celebratory mood into the bland, quiet setting. Hovering above atop the right-hand corner is a tiny swallow, which cleverly calls to mind the flower and bird imagery of traditional ink paintings from the Song-dynasty, while alluding to mankind’s pursuit of harmonious co-existence with the nature.
Liu Kuo-Sung (b. 1932) Still Life, 1956, oil on canvas, 52 x 71.5 cm
Est. HK$500,000 – 600,000 / US$64,000 – 77,000
Still Life is an exceptional work created in the early career of Liu Kuo-Sung, a pioneer of contemporary ink paintings. Studying Western art history and exploring various schools of painting techniques, Liu founded an avant-garde art group “Fifth Moon Group” in 1956. Depicting still-life objects in Cubist style, including a bottle, a long-stemmed glass, a fruit platter etc., the artist dissects these objects and reassembles them in this painting. The background of this work is informed by brushstrokes outlining simple colour blocks. The shapes and essence of these objects portrayed are interspersed and half-concealed in geometric patterns, which delivers an intense visual impact while calls for a rational analysis of the image.
Chao Chung-hsiang (1910 – 1991) Candles in the Wind No.1
1988, ink and acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 136.5 x 56.5 cm
Est. HK$1.2 – 2 million / US$154,000 – 256,000
Chao Chung-hsiang was one of Chinese master Lin Fengmian’s four major disciples. After graduating from the Hangzhou School of Fine Art in 1939, Chao moved to Taiwan and Spain before settling in New York in 1958. In Candles in the Wind No. 1, blue drip lines are superimposed on ink colourations to express the fluidity of Jackson Pollock’s style and the playful calligraphy technique of dripping by Chinese calligrapher from the Tang Dynasty, Yan Zhenqing. More subtly delineated is the image of red candle flames swaying in the breeze, referencing the artist’s sentimental longing for home and his expression of gratitude and greetings towards his ancestral kin.
David Wu Ject-Key (1890 – 1968) Harlequin, 1956, oil on canvas, 72 x 51.5cm
Est. HK$180,000 – 250,000 / US$23,000 – 32,000
David Wu Ject-Key was one of the earliest Chinese artists to study abroad in the North America, where he pursued his education in Montreal and New York in the 1920s respectively. Tutored by the followers of the great French Impressionist Master Jean-Léon Gérôme, Wu was a contemporary of another Chinese master Xu Beihong and is one of the few Chinese artists devoted to American realism and impressionism. The protagonist in Harlequin, a work to be offered at auction for the first time, comes across as a classical figure of Western theatre. The artist portrays him in a brashly colourful costume to reinforce the dramatic image, and with his make-up half removed to emphasize a comic touch on his good-looking face. This serves to highlight the actor’s personality clash with his role to nuanced effects in the painting.
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.