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Fine Chinese paintings sale presents a rare, large pair of gold screens by Qi Baishi
Cheung Chiu Kwan, senior director of Sotheby's China and Southeast Asia, gestures in front of Xu Beihong's " Galloping Horse," left, and Qi Baishi's "Dragon in the Clouds " during a press preview, in Hong Kong. The Chinese artists' work will be auctioned as part of Sotheby's spring sale on April 3. Xu's piece is estimated at US$540,000 to 770,000 and Qi's is estimated at US$1.5 to 2.3 million. AP Photo/Vincent Yu.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its Fine Chinese Paintings Spring Sale 2012 on 3 April at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The auction will feature over 3 over 300 lots 00 lots amassed from around the world, which are estimated in excess of HK$200 million / US$25.6 million*. Among them are a number of rare and exquisite paintings from private collections which are fresh to the market.

C.K. Cheung, Head of Sotheby's Fine Chinese Paintings Department, said: “This season, we have brought gs Department from Europe, the United States and around Asia outstanding works by prominent modern Chinese artists. This again attests to Sotheby’s global network and our longstanding ties with collectors worldwide, which have enabled us to maintain unrivalled access to some of the finest properties for auction.

Paintings and calligraphies from private collections in Japan will be on offer this season. Headlining this ensemble are the masterpieces by Wu Changshuo and Qi Baishi, both greatly respected in the art circle in Japan. We are also privileged to introduce superlative paintings by Fu Baoshi and Zhang Daqian sourced from North America, including Snow Storm - Switzerland, one of Zhang Daqian’s most definitive works from the 1960s that showcases his signature splashed colour style. After his departure from China, Zhang’s paintings were exhibited at Laky Gallery in the United States on four occasions, where his art was introduced to a wider Western audience. After an exhibition in 1967, the youngest daughter of the gallery owners acquired the present painting which, besides its inherent artistic value, is emblematic of Zhang’s encouraging support for a young, budding artist and his friendship with the Lakys.”

Qi Baishi's Willows At The Riverside Begonias (est. HK$15-20 million/ US$1.9-2.6 million) is the star lot of this sale. This pair of gold screens depicting Chinese landscape and flowers painted in ink and colour bears a six-page explanatory note by Japanese sinologist and Chinese art expert, Yuzo Sugimura, presented in a handscroll. Executed in 1922 at the height of Qi’s popularity in Japan, as the note discloses, this pair of gold screens was brought from Japan to China by Lieutenant General Mantaro Watanabe of the Imperial Japanese Army during his stay in the country where he commissioned Qi to paint on them. Upon completion, the screens were sent back to Japan and had never been shown in public since. A few years after Watanabe’s death, Sugimura, who was celebrated for his expert research on Qi’s artistry, had the opportunity to view this prized pair of screens.

The two gold screens are dedicated to different artistic themes - Chinese landscape in one and flowers for the other – which demonstrate the wide repertoire of subject matter under the artist’s mastery. Begonias is dominated by a depiction of a giant rock, and around it are begonia flowers to mark the contrast of weight and lightness as well as their complementary roles to each other. Willows at The Riverside focuses on a river and its two opposite shores. Running across the screen is a space deliberately left blank to denote a river flowing. Distant images of residences overlook the swaying willows on the opposite river bank to evoke a contrast between solid substance and elements of less concrete form. The unique texture of the screen material also allows the artist to freely demonstrate his painterly talents, as evidenced in the smooth-flowing brushstrokes and natural variations of the ink effects. Each screen is inscribed with two annotations at its adjacent corners. When placed side by side, the two screens combine to form a unified composition, revealing the scope of Qi’s creative vision.

Qi left behind an impressive body of paintings in Japan, but they are rarely executed on folding screens. Willows At The Riverside; Begonias is one-of-its-kind on account of its sheer dimension and choice of medium. Preserved in mint condition, the screens provide a backdrop of glittering gold and radiant, vivid colours for Qi’s forceful brushworks in ink. Even though a century has now elapsed, they still look as good today as they were new.

Another Qi Baishi Qi Baishi painting is Dragon in the Clouds (est: HK$12-18 million/US$1.5-2.3 million) from Important Chinese Paintings From The Robert Chang Collection. The dragon here is rendered in black ink, which makes it a rarity among the artist’s other compositions. Soaring agilely in the air, the mythological creature weaves its way through the clouds, both the eyes on its prominent head glowering. A jet of mist and water pouring forth from its mouth is transformed into rain to nurture life under the heavens.

This work was dedicated to Cao Kun, a warlord and President of Republic of China (1923-1924). In the early 1920s, Qi Baishi had a number of works patronised by Cao, and these exquisite works encompassed a variety of themes executed in different styles - from people to flowers, fruits to insects – and in varied formats ranging from albums to monumental paintings. Dragon in the Clouds was executed in 1922, the year when Cao defeated another military leader Zhang Zuolin and wrestled control of northern China. Given the circumstances of his time, Qi’s painting of a dragon, a subject matter he rarely touched upon, turned out to be a befitting gift for Cao, in tribute to his political supremacy.

Another highlight is the vivid portrayal of Xu Beih Xu Beihong’s most popular subject matter. Executed in the summer of 1944, Galloping Horse (est: HK$4.2-6 million/US$540,000-770,000)) depicts a strong horse galloping in full vigour with its mane flying and all four hooves in mid-air. The work was dedicated to Dr. Joseph Needham, renowned English biochemist and Fellow of the Royal Society, and his wife Dr. Dorothy Needham, as gift commissioned by the Physical Anthropology Research Centre of Academia Sinica. Following the departure of Dr. Joseph Needham in 1995, the painting became property of the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge, as per the will of the deceased. Proceeds of this sale will be contributed to the funding of the institute.

Dr. Needham arrived in China in early 1943 during the Japanese invasion under the British Council’s direction to enhance Sino-British cultural and scientific exchange. During his three-year stay, he served as Director of the Sino-British Scientific Co-operation Bureau, supplying local institutes with the knowledge, equipment and support they needed to ensure undisrupted scientific research during the war. His experience in China became the foundation for Science and Civilisation in China, a series of books he wrote upon returning to England, which were revered as the most substantial and authoritative research in the field.

Executed in the autumn of 1965, Snow Storm-Switzerland (est: HK$2-3 million/US$260,000-380,000), a masterpiece of splashed colour on gold cardboard, documents the snow scenery Zhang Daqian Zhang Daqian saw during a trip in Switzerland accompanied by his friends, Zhang Muhan, Wang Jiqian and their wives. This work is an innovative example of Zhang’s genius in transforming a mountain blizzard into abstract patterns of rich vibrant colours. His splashed ink and colour style came of age in the mid to late 1960s, when he accomplished several paintings of this subject; the present Snow Storm-Switzerland is one of the most original works to emerge from this series.

After leaving China, Zhang held several exhibitions in the United States, and, at Laky Gallery in Carmel, his works were exhibited on four occasions, propelling Zhang to fame in the international art arena. In 1967, Ms. Laky, the youngest daughter of the owners of Laky Gallery, who is also an artist herself, acquired this painting from Zhang. Despite cultural differences, both artists had mutual appreciation for each other’s works. To reciprocate, Zhang later bought a knitted artwork at Laky’s exhibition. Such exchange drew parallels with the mutual exchange of artworks between Zhang and Picasso at a legendary meeting in 1956.

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March 19, 2012

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