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Sotheby's Hong Kong to Hold Fine Chinese Paintings Autumn Sale 2009
Li Keran’s Tranquil Landscape Est. HK$3-4.5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong Fine Chinese Paintings Autumn Sale 2009 will be held on 5 October 2009, bringing together an excellent selection of outstanding and rare works by esteemed artists. Following the success of ‘Reminiscence – 35 Years of Chinese Paintings in Sotheby’s Hong Kong’ collection offered in Spring, this season’s sale will present the second part of this series, as well as yet another array of sophisticated thematic collections. Amongst them are the ‘Paintings Previously in the Collection of Chen Julai’s Anchi Studio’, ‘Qi Baishi – Paintings from an Important Private Collection’, ‘Landscape Paintings by Beijing and Shanghai Artists in the early Republic of China’, ‘A Selection of Exquisite Flower and Bird Paintings’ and ‘Lin Fengmian: A Private Collection of Exceptional Works from the 1970s’. The total of over 250 lots is expected to fetch in excess of HK$67 million.

C.K. Cheung, Sotheby’s Head of Chinese Paintings, said, “The wide-ranging offerings and a variety of collections we have assembled for this season’s sale stand out with superb quality, and boast a diverse range in style and motif. This reflects Sotheby’s highly meticulous approach to selecting only exceptional pieces for the market, as well as its devotion to open up new horizons for discerning collectors. Highlighting the sale are the cherished ‘Paintings Previously in the Collection of Chen Julai’s Anchi Studio’, once reserved for the collector’s exclusive enjoyment and are now offered fresh to the market for the first time. Other important works on offer include five paintings by Qi Baishi from a private collection including Scratching Zhong Kui’s Back; eighteen exquisite landscape paintings by artists from Beijing and Shanghai; four exquisite pieces by Lin Fengmian in 1970s from a private collection; as well as nine flower and bird paintings by four artists of the genre including Jiang Handing, Zhang Dazhuang, Lu Yifei and Tang Yun.”

Qi Baishi – Paintings from an Important Private Collection
This Collection features 5 prized paintings by Qi Baishi including Longevity (est: HK$1.8-2.2 million), a masterpiece once in American collector Alice Boney’s collection; and Mother and Child (est. HK$1.6-2.2 million) previously Zhang Zhen’s collection.

Particularly noteworthy is Qi’s Scratching Zhong Kui’s Back (est: HK$2.5-3.5 million) completed in 1936, which comes from the private collection of Yeung Wing-tak, a renowned Chinese paintings collector in Hong Kong. Imbued with wit and humour, this painting has its origins in a folk tale and features a mischievous little devil who scratches the back of his master Zhong Kui. As Professor Lang Shaojun commented in his book, The World of Qi Baishi, the devil is portrayed trying in vain to reach the right spot, but the experience is so unsatisfying for the anxious Zhong Kui that his beard is sent flying. This hyperbolic illustration is inspired by light-hearted folk art and stems from the painter’s humorous personality. The inscription in the painting is exaggerated but yet intended to inspire: It is never easy to scratch another’s itch, just as it is not easy to serve your master.

Though marked by the unconstrained expressions of Qi’s robust brushstrokes, the painting also accords great attention to details such as the body gestures and facial expressions that well capture the protagonists’ personality. Despite his apparent brashness, Zhong Kui exhibits an approachable character here with an erudite air of a benevolent court official. The little devil, with his green face and unruly hair, can be likened to a lowly court assistant. Scratching Zhong Kui’s Back is noted for the painter’s artistry, the unique character of its composition and connotation.

Inescapable Changes – Transformation and New Art of Post-1949 China
Closing on the heels of ‘Art of New China – Paintings after 1949’ collection offered in Spring, this season’s series of ‘Inescapable Changes – Transformation and New Art of Post-1949 China’ spotlights over 20 prime oeuvres. All of them were completed in the period between the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the days leading up to the country’s reforms and opening up. They documented the real-life episodes in an era of China’s sweeping historical transformations.

This Collection offers a narrative framework of events and history in chronological order: ‘early period of regime building’, ‘industrial developments’, ‘panorama of landscape, ‘footprints of Long March’, ‘three red flags’ and ‘waves of Cultural Revolution’. Alongside are ‘revolutionary verses’ and ‘sweeping vicissitudes over the straits’ that manifest the influence of Mao Zedong’s poems on the creations of Chinese paintings and calligraphies of the time, as well as the changes that took place between the Straits of Taiwan.

In the autumn of 1965, Qian Songyan set out on a painting trip until early the following year to Jiangxi province, visiting revolutionary places such as Jiujiang, Lushan, Ji’an and Jinggangshan. It was during this voyage to the revolutionary bases of New China that Quest of the Long March (est. HK$450,000-600,000) was completed.

The subject of this work is a bridge on Wuyang River in Jiangxi, which the Red Army marched across to start the Long March. It has hence been known as ‘The First Bridge of Long March’. According to Qian’s entry in his sketchbook, the bridge stands before Wangjiang Pavilion of the Wuyang People’s Commune and straddles across Mian River. What he portrayed in the painting, though, was no epic scene of the Red Army marching through the bridge. Instead, he depicted a scene of the People’s Commune members returning home after a long day of hard work, each bearing a plough and basket on the shoulder against the setting sun. Reflecting the changing times, the painter’s focus has apparently shifted from revolutionary warfare to post-Revolution developments, while the bridge bearing silent witness to all the vicissitudes. Qian’s forceful brushstrokes, coupled with the bold and solid colours applied, aptly resonate with the ethos of his times.

Other highlights
Also on offer is Li Keran’s Tranquil Landscape (est. HK$3-4.5 million). The gist and essence of this work is summed up in its inscription, which describes the enchanting sounds of a rushing waterfall as the Chinese pipe music heard in the depths of a lush mountain.

Under Li’s unmistakable brushstrokes, the velvety flowing waterfall and the misty yet majestic forest are brought to life. This is testified by Professor Wan Qingli’s book The World of Li Keran, in which the author extols this painting for the masterful blending and delicate contrasts between concreteness and surrealism. The mist and clouds are rendered in tangible details, conjuring the impression of movement despite their surreal and intangible qualities.

In May 1986, the Chinese University of Hong Kong staged a large-scale ‘Contemporary Chinese Paintings Exhibition’ featuring iconic works by renowned Chinese artists from around the world. Li chose the present piece to represent him for the exhibition, revealing how much it meant to him. In fact, this painting was finished in 1984, but the inscription was added only the following year, and features six seals of the artist. It is likely that Tranquil Landscape was created by the artist for his own appreciation, as it has brought much delight to himself upon completion.

From as early as the mid 1970s, Wu Guanzhong started depicting scenic views of Chongqing by the Yangtze River in both his oil and ink-and-colour works, featuring similar compositions. Old City of Chongqing (est. HK$2.2-3 million) on offer is his largest work of square dimension of this subject matter. Here, the river is compressed and represented by a fine flowing line on the left fringe of the painting. As such, the buildings are visually heightened and enlarged, appearing as though they were seamlessly joined in multiple undulating layers.

Through Wu’s brushstrokes of varied intensity and tautness, as well as the use of different shades of darkness and light, the river and city is portrayed in contrasts of multilayer, while the sooty rooftops and wall façades in pristine white are juxtaposed. On the other hand, the intermittent spots of red and green represent local residents commuting through narrow passageways, or clothes hung on the balconies. These artistic arrangements of Wu are evident and captivating in this oeuvre, which are also excellent representations of his hallmark style in the late 1980s.

In May 1937, Xu Beihong was invited to Hong Kong to hold an exhibition, where he befriended a recent émigré Yu Ben. Executed in February of the same year, Rooster and Sunflowers (est. HK$2-3 million) was presented by the painter to this newfound and younger friend after its completion, with the inscription “for the custody of Jianben” later added in.

Most of the animal portrayals in Xu’s paintings serve as metaphors. Rooster and Sunflowers calls for viewers’ attention to two large sunflowers, perched atop branches and blooming gloriously under the blazing sun. Below is a rooster with a lustrous dark plume and scarlet crest, standing proudly with a no-nonsense flair. Expressing a wish for advancement and success in career through the vigorous image of the rooster, Rooster and Sunflowers embodies the artist’s New Year wishes as it was executed during the Lunar New Year. It has also become a token of encouragement for Yu.

Further highlights include Zhang Daqian’s The Pu Garden (est. HK$280,000-400,000) which testifies to Zhang’s friendship with Zhu Shengzhai dated back to circa late 1940s. Both of them shared the same fervent interest in art. During Zhang’s residence in India and later his relocation to South America, the two temporarily lost touch but it was later re-established. Zhang then entrusted Zhu to source classical Chinese paintings for him in Hong Kong. At the same time, Zhang gave away a number of his works to Zhu. In the mid 1950s, Zhu published a book about such oeuvres.

Completed in 1949, the present work is believed to be the first work of Zhang given to Zhu. Whenever working on a painting, Zhang would thoughtfully consider the recipient’s status and background. Born in the Jiangnan region, Zhu had a political career but was, first and foremost, literati. Catering to Zhu’s interest, Zhang steered clear of any depiction of ostentatious monuments, preferring simple and unembellished landscape as his choice of subject. Echoing the Northern-school’s style, it is executed with an application of light green ink. Free of redundancy in detail and ornamentation, Zhang’s fine brushworks also exude austereness and melancholy that created a distinctive ambience in this work.



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