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Sotheby's to sell the Mei Yun Tang Collection of paintings by Chang Dai-Chien
Mr. CK Cheung, Head of Chinese Paintings Department, introducing an auction highlight. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Following the record-breaking sale of The Mei Yun Tang Collection of Paintings by Chang Dai-chien in May 2011, Sotheby’s has been entrusted once again by Mei Yun Tang to offer a further 25 works by Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien) on 27 May 2013 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. Titled A Master’s Secrets Unveiled, the sale is estimated in excess of HK$110 million / US$14 million*, and is centered on works especially created for the seminal publication - Chinese Paintings with the Original Paintings & Discourses on Chinese Art By Professor Chang Dai-chien published in 1961. The book is authoritative and is the single most systematic exposition of Zhang Daqian’s techniques and theories, compiled and published by Mr. Kao Ling-mei, the founder of the Mei Yun Tang Collection. It explores Zhang’s journey towards his exceptional artistic achievements and celebrates the unique relationship between the artist and Mr. Kao Ling-mei. Augmented by other important works chosen from the Collection to provide a panorama of the artist’s career from the 1940s to the 1960s, the sale reveals the artist’s range and mastery – from exquisite examples of his fine-brush depictions of flowers, birds and classical landscapes to his later expressionistic “splashed ink” works.

Other than the 25 works sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in May 2011, the remaining works from the Collection have not been shown in public since the last exhibition of the Collection at the Singapore Art Museum in 1997.

Highlights of the sale will be exhibited in Beijing from 8 to 9 May and in phases at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. The full auction preview will be held from 23 to 26 May in Hong Kong prior to the auction.

Sotheby’s Head of Chinese Paintings Department, Mr. C. K. Cheung, says, “Sotheby’s is extremely honoured to have been entrusted once again with works from the Mei Yun Tang Collection for the upcoming sale, to be titled A Master’s Secrets Unveiled. Since our announcement of the auction in early April, we have seen strong interest from collectors across Asia and around the world, who recognize the significance and importance of the Mei Yun Tang collection, and are excited at the opportunity to compete once again for works of such exceptional provenance.

The Mei Yun Tang Collection is one of the most preeminent and comprehensive private collections of Zhang Daqian paintings. Its unimpeachable provenance has been widely acknowledged by both the collecting and academic communities. The upcoming sale will highlight works featured in the seminal publication by the founder of the Mei Yun Tang Collection, Mr. Kao Ling-mei - Chinese Paintings with the Original Paintings & Discourses on Chinese Art By Professor Chang Dai-chien - which is a major exploration of Zhang’s art, theories and techniques. As part of the exhibition, Sotheby’s will present original materials created during the production of this book, including Zhang’s sketches and drawings as well as notes marking his edits to the book – a rare opportunity to see inside the production of this important volume. For much of this material, this exhibition will be the first time these historical documents have been seen by the public since the book was published in 1961. We are grateful for Mei Yun Tang’s generosity in lending this material to the exhibition. Considered together with Zhang’s works included in the sale, this exhibition will provide a window into this master’s unique artistic insights and practice that will both educate and inspire collectors and scholars.”

Chinese Paintings with the Original Paintings & Discourses on Chinese Art By Professor Chang Dai-chien

“The painter is the deity of his own world, invested with the prerogative to create whatever he pleases. In his paintings, he may play the part of the Creator and cause it to rain or the sun to shine, without being dictated to by any force in existence.” - Zhang Daqian, Chinese Paintings with the Original Paintings and Discourses on Chinese Art

Zhang Daqian first met Kao Ling-mei, a professional photographer working in China, in the mid-1930s. The two immediately recognised a kindred spirit in each other, and became close friends for over 50 years. In collaboration with Zhang, Kao gathered examples of Zhang’s artistic theories on different subject matters, painstakingly compiling them over three years into a book that provides a systematic exposition on the artist’s exceptional techniques. Titled Chinese Paintings with the Original Paintings & Discourses on Chinese Art By Professor Chang Dai-chien, the book is the most authoritative publication on Zhang Daqian’s painting theories that has ever been produced. With meticulous attention to design and printing, it is hailed by academics as the definitive testimony of Zhang’s virtuosity and is essential to understanding Zhang’s artistic achievement.


Zhang Daqian’s Self Portrait
Executed in 1960
Ink and colour on paper, hanging scroll
70.5 x 47.5 cm
Est: HK$2.5 – 4 million / US$320,000 – 510,000

This Self Portrait was executed in 1960 by Zhang Daqian at the age of 61. The artist gave the work as a gift to Kao Ling-mei, the founder of the Mei Yun Tang Collection. In the painting, the artist’s upper body is shown, both his arms placed across his chest, a walking cane in one hand and his greyish-white beard in characteristic disarray. With his head held erect, his eyes open wide under a pair of bushy brows and mouth slightly ajar with a toothy smile, this work captures the artist’s optimistic character. Zhang composed numerous self-portraits in his lifetime, but few from this perspective and with such an expression of cheerfulness. Brushworks are executed swiftly and smoothly to render the self-portraiture in realistic details, from the folds in the artist’s robe to his unruly beard, facial contours and a playful spirit in the eyes.

Zhang Daqian’s Daoist Goddess Playing Panpipe
Executed in 1955
Ink and colour on paper, hanging scroll
116 x 65 cm
Est: HK$15 – 18 million / US$1.92 – 2.31 million

Zhang Daqian might have drawn inspiration from folk legends in creating Daoist Goddess Playing Panpipe. Hair piled in a high bun, the goddess looks resplendent in a flowing costume, complete with a ceremonial headdress and strings of beads. Straddling a white phoenix, she holds a panpipe amid the clouds of heaven. Zhang applied fine delicate brushstrokes (Gongbi style), coupled with the use of heavily-textured mineral paints, to depict the goddess’ face, hair ornaments and costume accessories. Every technique employed, from the choice of colours to the application of brush techniques, is inspired by the art of ancient cave murals from Dunhuang, resurrecting the magnificence of the Tang dynasty.

Zhang once spent three years in Dunhuang, where he assiduously studied the cave murals and practiced the painterly style they exemplify. This experience left indelible influences on the style of human figures portrayed in his later works. A classic example is this painting, in which the goddess’ image draws heavily from the portrayal of Bodhisattvas found in the cave art of Dunhuang. While Bodhisattvas seated in a crosslegged position are more commonly seen in ancient mural paintings, often with an empty backdrop, this work combines folklore imagery with the application of multi-layered colours to enliven the character depicted. Daoist Goddess Playing Panpipe was completed in the autumn of 1955. A year later, it was exhibited in Zhang’s solo exhibition at Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris –considered the artist’s first major solo show in Europe - and a significant highlight in Zhang’s exhibition tour around Europe.

Zhang Daqian’s Shimmering Lake and Mountain Colours
Executed in 1949
Ink and colour on paper, hanging scroll
118 x 52.5 cm
Est: HK$16 – 20 million / US$2.05 – 2.56 million

Shimmering Lake and Mountain Colours was executed in 1949 during Zhang’s brief sojourn in Hong Kong and Macau, where he enjoyed a respite from the military unrest in mainland China. He visited friends and worked on painting projects during that period. Early that year, he called on a friend, Jian Jinglun, and it was at his home on Hong Kong Island where Zhang completed a number of excellent works, including this one, which expressed the artist’s longing for the beautiful scenery of lakes and mountains of his homeland.

Dominated by shades of blue and green, this work was painted in Mogu (“boneless”) style, a technique found in many of Zhang’s works from the late 1940s to early 1950s. Imbued with subtle beauty, the composition exudes an erudite elegance, with an emphasis on colour harmony. The juxtapositions of lush greens and red mineral stones provide an alluring contrast to the indigo-coloured boulders depicted. This multi-layering of colours calls to mind a similar style applied in Spring Mountains in Sichuan, another landscape work by Zhang Daqian executed in 1953 (sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong April Sale 2011 for HK$64.5 million / US$8.27 million). By comparison, the use of colours in Shimmering Lake and Mountain Colours is more subdued with less ornamental effects, and perhaps evokes the refreshing charm of the lakes and mountains. Its layout is equally meticulous, with details of scenery rendered in both close-ups and distant perspectives. The painting is richly detailed with tranquil, hidden paths; meandering bridges, emerald fauna and tiny boats on a lake, all set against a backdrop of mountains, forests and the horizon in the distance, inviting viewers into a haven of rest and peace.

Zhang Daqian’s An Invitation to Rusticate (pictured below)
Executed in 1966
Splashed ink and colour on paper, framed
67 x 188 cm
Estimate upon request

Rustication, a theme originated from classical Chinese poems, refers to the mutual invitations of friends to retreat into a reclusive life, away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. Most Chinese painters of subsequent generations experimented with this motif in their works. Zhang Daqian was no different, but he brought a greater depth of meaning to the idea through his artistry. In the early 1950s, Zhang immigrated with his family to South America, inviting his friend Kao Ling-mei to follow. Kao’s emigration application was approved, but he was unable to follow through with his plan, due to his personal circumstances at the time. Though separated by distance, the friends remained in close touch, given Zhang’s frequent trips to visit Kao in Hong Kong.

Undertaken in 1966, An Invitation To Rusticate marks the painter’s attempt to recreate on paper the scenic views from his Brazilian home. We can infer from its title that this work is also meant as an exhortation for his friend to join him in Brazil, ten years after the initial invitation. The painting was exhibited later that same year in a solo exhibition organised by Kao in Hong Kong City Hall after its completion in 1966. In early 1968, Kao visited Zhang in Brazil for a happy reunion.

In this work, Zhang used a splashed-ink-and-colour technique to produce a spectacular vista of mountains and lakes. A space is intentionally left blank, where the unadorned portion of yellowing paper suggests the image of a lake surface in the viewer’s imagination. Echoing a semi-abstract style, colours flow freely from the tip of Zhang’s brush evoking a natural landscape. Dense layers of mineral paint in blue and green, ornamented with dashes of red pigments, are applied to evoke the multifaceted beauty of nature, and the composition comes alive in a seamless fusion of ink and paint. Invitation to Rusticate is comparable to Aachensee Lake, another work created by Zhang in the same month of the same year (sold in the Spring of 1992 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong), in terms of dimension, composition, layout and technique. Together they represent the artist’s best splashed-ink-and-colour paintings completed during that year.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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