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Sotheby's Hong Kong to Hold 20th Century Chinese Art Spring Sale
"10-3-78" by Zao Wou-ki est.:HK$7-10 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong 20th Century Chinese Art Spring Sale 2010 will be held on 5 April, offering a meticulous selection of more than 65 lots estimated at approximately HK$75 million. Many of the paintings are exceptionally rare, appearing for the first time on the art market.

Lily Lee, Head of Sotheby’s 20th Century Chinese Art Department, said: “The 20th Century Chinese Art Autumn Sale 2009 has garnered impressive results with the record-breaking sale of Lotus et Poissons Rouges (Lotus and Red Fish), a landscape painting by Sanyu, achieving the second highest auction price for a Sanyu painting, and an auction record for a landscape painting by the artist. Zao Wou-ki’s 7.4.61 sold for almost twice its estimated price at HK$15.78 million.

Following last season’s success, our spring auction will bring together the outstanding works of Zao Wou-ki from the “Paul Klee Period” of his career in Paris during the 1950s as well as those created during his “oracle-bone inscriptions period” and in the 1970s. Several of these paintings have never been auctioned before, including a large-scale painting 10-3-78 as well as Village de Montagne se Disperent, a work that has been unseen in public for nearly half a century.”

Exceptional Works by Zao Wou-ki (1950s – 1970s)
A pioneer of Chinese abstract paintings, Zao Wou-ki (Zhao Wuji, b.1921) started out in expressionist figurative paintings, followed by a transition from painting symbolic images to expressionist abstract oils.

Early 1950s
Arriving in Paris, Zao Wou-ki underwent a change in his artistic style, influenced by Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee. This new style became known as Zao’s “Paul Klee” period. During this time, his works melded the Realist style with Paul Klee’s defiance of classical perspective, forming a unique approach to art. Currently part of a private collection, his work The Lilies (est.HK$2.5- 4 million) applies soft, meandering lines to outline petals and branches to portray still-life objects in a flower vase. Such techniques accentuate the image of blooming lilies as a centerpiece of composition to recreate the style of School of Paris, an art movement popular in the West at that time. The painting has been kept in a private collection and has never before appeared on the art market.

Mid 1950s
Within a short span of five years from late 1953, Zao Wou-ki started immersing himself fervently in painting semi-abstract art. From 1954, the art of oracle-bone inscriptions inspired him to include lines and dots in his works to create room for viewers to use their imagination to make free and natural associations. Executed in 1954, Village de Montagne se Disperent (est. HK$3.5- 5 million) bears witness to the artist’s abandonment of a Realist approach to embrace Paul Kleestyle of minimalist lines and free brushstrokes. The work also incorporates the art of Chinese seal carving and oracle-bone inscriptions to create a series of semi figurative landscapes, where forms of mountains and houses are barely visible. Village de Montagne se Disperent also heralds a turning point in the artist’s stylistic transition from Realism to Abstractionism. Never seen on the art market for nearly half a century, this monumental work holds a priceless value.

Late 1950s
Zao Wou-ki’s mastery of abstract art matured gradually in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Executed in 1959, 4-4-1959 (est. HK$5.8 - 9 million) is a masterpiece that reflects a major transformation in his artistry. Zao Wou-ki began to title his works after their completion dates and wrote them on the back of these paintings. He continues this practice to this day to allow viewers to directly experience the meaning of the paintings without interference from extraneous factors. Liberated from the shackles of formalism that bound him in the early 1950s, Zao was increasingly drawn to abstract art. As well as discarding the figurative style, he also ceased the abundant use of colours. The result is a visual rendering of extremely simple messages and themes. Zao’s practised, unrestrained brushstrokes expressed his feelings for China: the style conveys the tranquility of Chinese landscape, the delicate portrayal of nature and the erudite flavour of his craft.

1960s and beyond
After 1960, Zao Wou-ki’s immersion in the abstractionism was complete. Visually, his works were now shorn of the rigid rules of figurative painting. Reminiscent of the vibrancy of “hemp fibre strokes”, an ancient Chinese calligraphy style, the artist’s leaping, uninhibited brushstrokes provide an effective channel for his feelings and perceptions. Through the seamless integration of Chinese calligraphy and his abstract compositions, he pioneered a series of works which became known as the “Cursive Calligraphy Series”. From the mid 1970s, the artistic approach he gradually adopted to express his thoughts and feelings was marked by basic colour tones, including sombre black and brown, capturing the serenity of Chinese landscapes. One of Zao’s most representative works in this regard is 10-3 78 (est. HK$7-10 million). With dimensions of 200 cm by 162 cm, it is also one of the largest paintings he executed. A European private collector bought the painting from a Paris art gallery, Galerie De France, in 1978. Since then, the painting has been part of his private collection and has never appeared on the art market. It offers viewers an indelible impression of the harmony Zao fosters through his delicate portrayals of nature and landscape.

Other outstanding works
Winter Sunset (est. HK$3 – 5 million) by Yan Wenliang(1893-1990) is a work of museum quality and one of the largest paintings by the artist featured at auction (68cm x 105cm). Winter Sunset was completed in 1947 and its background has been richly documented in a double-page feature, replete with photographs, in The China Life magazine published in Shanghai in 1947.

Dubbed the “Pioneer of Chinese landscape oil paintings”, Yan Wenliang, as a student at École Nationale Supérieure Des Beaux-Arts De Paris from 1928 to 1931, was heavily influenced by French art. His works cleverly combine classical Chinese art with the hallmarks of Western-style such as Realism andImpressionism. Through the adept use of colour, he skilfully combines emotional expression with portrayal of natural scenery. Although not a proponent of Impressionism, he assiduously researched theories of colour application. As a result, the rich colours and high condensations of forms he executes bear a striking similarity to that of Impressionist paintings.

At the Race Course (est. HK$1.5-2.5 million) by Pan Yuliang (1895-1977) is another highlight of the auction, where the lavishness, indulgence and sensual images of a racecourse are realistically delivered. Blending a Fauvism style with Impressionist techniques, it juxtaposes a distant racecourse scene with the close-up of a conversation between two protagonists, resulting in them echoing each other harmoniously. Whether it is composition or colour scheme, the key details depicted – from the scarlet cheeks of the heavily made-up lady, the brightly lit racecourse in the backdrop or the two glasses of orange champagne in the foreground – complement each other coherently.

Beautiful Village – Awaiting Spring (est: HK$2.8 – 3.8 million) is by Wang Yidong (b.1955). Wang is an artist of the Realist School. He customarily dwells on rural themes and light-hearted folk elements, all trademark of his work from Mon Mountain in the Rain of the 1980s, Rough Horseplay at the Wedding in the 1990s to the more recent Beautiful Village – Awaiting Spring. Such a cultural orientation informs Wang’s artistic intention and makes his art endearing. In Beautiful Village – Awaiting Spring, bold vibrant colours are harmoniously united with a down-to-earth simplicity, leaving room for viewers to appreciate its visual details while also reflecting on its theme.

Sotheby's | 20th Century Chinese Art | Lily Lee | Zao Wou-ki |

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