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Fine Chinese Paintings Autumn Sale 2010 Announced at Sotheby's
Fu Baoshi’s Court Ladies. Estimate: HK$5-7 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold the Fine Chinese Paintings Autumn Sale 2010 on 5 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Building on the success of the spring auction earlier this year, Sotheby’s will continue to present an array of distinguished thematic collections this season, including “Twenty-two Paintings & Calligraphy from the Collection of Chai Sian Kwan”, “Paintings from a European Private Collection”, “Calligraphy Couplets of Late Qing Scholars” and several others. The total of 270 lots is expected to fetch in excess of HK$120 million.

C. K. Cheung, Sotheby's Head of Chinese Paintings said, “Our spring sale of fine Chinese paintings in April saw unprecedented success - with a total sale of over HK$400 million, achieving Sotheby’s highest ever seasonal total for this category. The phenomenal result is testament to the appeal of our meticulous approach of selecting only exceptional works for the market, a strategy fully endorsed by our discerning buyers. This autumn, we will again present a wide-ranging collection of works, marked by thematic diversity and the finest quality. Over the past years, Sotheby’s selection of Chinese paintings has been consistently based on artistic merits, rarity and significance of the works, rather than prices or sheer reputation. One example is ‘Calligraphy by Eminent Officials of Late Qing’ to debut at our upcoming sale. This album brings together the calligraphic writings of important Qing Dynasty officials involved in the Self-Strengthening Movement. Highlighting the album are the original works of officials from the movement’s two opposite camps and are therefore worthy of appreciation for their historical significance.”

Twenty-two Paintings & Calligraphy from the Collection of Chai Sian Kwan
This collection features 22 paintings and calligraphy pieces amassed by the owner over several years. Encompassing the works of masters from Shitao and Jin Nong to Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi and Fu Baoshi, it attests to the legacy of friendship between owner and artists.

An auction highlight is Magnificent Mountain Landscape (est. HK$5–7 million), executed by Zhang Daqian at Ba De Garden in 1967. From February to their completion in May that year, about 30 paintings were completed, revolving around a myriad of themes, from mountains and lakes, birds and flowers and to a lesser extent, human characters. A variety of techniques from ink and colour splashes to traditional Chinese brushstrokes appeared in the works, including this current piece. At the time of its completion, the artist was 69 years of age and suffering from eye ailment. Nevertheless, this collection of works he painted with undivided attention boasts exceptional quality, especially with traditional landscapes. The year 1967 marked the zenith of Zhang’s artistic career, in which several of his masterpieces were composed, testifying to the vigour of his life and creative energy.

Fu Baoshi’s Court Ladies (est. HK$5–7 million) focuses on character portrayals. Both protagonists are court ladies, one being a maid who accompanies her mistress on a trip. Almost spartan in style, the painting offers no hint of context or backgrounds, with the entire focus placed on the protagonists, in what is regarded as a highly unusual artistic approach. Despite this, the court ladies are delineated with the subtlest of details, such as their coiffed hair and a musical instrument rendered in light-coloured ink washes. The demure look of both damsels, typical of Tang Dynasty women, complements the depiction of their robes and waist sashes. Represented by clean flowing lines, the costumes suggest a sense of movement, evoked by a dynamic application of ink. These details are calculated to capture the leisurely ease of the protagonists and their detachment from a madding world. The essence of this painting lies in the spaces deliberately left blank. Surrounded by nothingness, the silhouettes, the colour and other tangible forms of the images afford room for the viewers’ imagination.

Zhang Daqian Paintings from the Zhenhai Li Family Collection
Similar to an earlier lot highlighted at the Spring Sale this year, this collection belongs to Li Mingjing, a descendent from the Li family in Zhenhai, whose long-lasting friendship with Zhang Daqian spanned two generations. During his sojourns in Shanghai, Zhang usually stayed at the Li’s residence. Several impressive paintings were created by Zhang under the casual yet warm setting of Ou Xiang Guan studio inside Li Qiujun’s household. Zhang presented many of his works to Li’s descendants, for display in the studio for visitors’ appreciation. After Li Qiujun’s demise, the paintings were passed on to his younger relatives, with the best of them given to his niece, Li Mingjing and her elder brother Li Mingshen for custody.

Sceneries of Jiangnan (est. HK$5–7 million), a work executed in 1948 by Zhang Daqian, showcases the artist’s extraordinary grasp of landscape painting skills inherited from the ancient masters. The scroll begins with a close-up of coastline scenes, along with the protagonists sailing on boats and securing the vessels to shore, all rendered with a light, surreal touch. The composition continues to deepen in intensity, with portrayals of rolling mountain ridges and waterfalls. Lush forests and meandering paths leading to a lone pavilion are also part of the beautiful Jiangnan sceneries depicted. Closely-knit brushstrokes are applied with varying shades of ink in miniature-like precision to beget images of alternately dense and sparse foliage. On contact of ink with the Ming Dynasty Korean paper, a blurry effect emerges to give the mountains and fauna portrayed their textural qualities. The outcome is a picture of natural scenery with a whiff of antiquity. Both this hanging scroll and Landscape After Ancient Master, another Zhang Daqian painting introduced this spring, are considered a perfect match and best appreciated together!

Other Highlights
Qi Baishi’s Frolic Frogs (est. HK1.2-1.8 million) hails from the private collection of his beloved disciple, Guo Xiuyi. Executed in 1951, when Qi was at the grand old age of 91, it reflects a sublime state of artistry, characterised by effortlessness and carefree brush technique. Though it appears like a casual sketch, the painting is more intricate in composition than other works of the same motif. Noted for his ingenious use of space, Qi’s layered approach to composition produces a subtle line of distinction between river water and coastline at the point where a frog head peeks out of water. Four tadpoles are seen swimming on the upper part of the painting; below them is a group of frogs along the river coastline, some facing each other directly as though gathered for a dialogue. A frog intent on joining its fellow creatures struggles to free itself as one of its limbs is caught in seaweed. Their various postures and demeanours, along with the pattern of congregation they form, make for an amusing snapshot. Qi creates an overlapping mass of ink dots in different shades to project a sense of dynamism. Mirroring the elderly artist’s sense of childlike wonder, this painting has eclipsed Frogs, another of Qi’s masterpiece now kept in the National Art Museum of China, in creative intent and spontaneity.

Lu Yifei joined The Mei Jing Studio in 1938 to study calligraphy from Wu Hufan. Highly acclaimed for his flowers and birds paintings, he infused novel elements into his works to foster a truly unique style of his own while imbibing the influences of his artistic forebear. Compared to his works of the flowers and birds genre, which gained wide appeal in Shanghai art circles, Lu’s landscape paintings remain extremely scarce. Boating on the Spring Lake (est. HK$400,000–600,000), executed in 1941, was inspired by a similarly-themed work of Wen Hengshan. Whether in composition and brush techniques, Lu’s painting remains impeccable. Here, landscape is expressed in fine details. A greater challenge for the artist, though, is conjuring the classical aura of Chinese landscape. By the artist’s mastery of brush techniques, trees and rocks are painted in vivid details and balanced proportions. Lu’s proclivity for milder colours has also resulted in shades of light green intertwining from each other, executed to a multilayered effect and visual harmony. Praised by Wu Hufan as a gem among Lu’s portfolio of works, it rivals the masterpieces of ancient masters in the traditional Chinese landscape genre.

Very few paintings by Lu Yanshao have been left to posterity. Rarer still are those indicated with 1909 as the year of completion. Lu Yanshao’s Snowy Landscape (est. HK$500,000–700,000) was completed in 1935, offering glimpse into his artistry from the early years. Lu learned his craft from Feng Chaoran at the latter’s studio. Although the brush techniques he learned from his predecessors were yet to be completely assimilated into his style, Lu purveyed a mix of grandeur and archaism in his works with a maturity beyond his years. By the time when he revisited the snowscape motif in his works while in Sichuan, Lu had already established his own distinctive style, which offers an interesting contrast to this painting.

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