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Masterpieces from top-selling artists headline Bonhams Hong Kong auction
‘Blue and Red Lotus’ by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Estimate: HK$3,500,000 – 5,000,000. Photo: Bonhams.

HONG KONG.- Bonhams Hong Kong’s 2013 Spring Sale of Fine Chinese Paintings & Contemporary Asian Art on 25 May at the Island Shangri-la Hotel offers 149 lots. In addition to masterpieces from legendary classical and modern artists such as Wen Zhengming, Xu Beihong, Zhang Daqian and Wu Guanzhong, the sale also features a capsule collection of Contemporary Asian Art carefully curated by the newly established Contemporary Art department. This capsule collection features iconic Chinese and Southeast Asian art and is a harbinger of a more comprehensive offering at the Autumn Auctions which will be held in November. The sale also shines the spotlight on the works of Qu LeiLei, an innovative and influential Chinese contemporary artist who holds an important place in art history. Internationally acclaimed for his ground-breaking work which portrays light and shade in his unique brush and ink language that combines the best of the East and the West. He shows how the Chinese medium of brush and ink, which is traditionally a linear art, can, through skillful and extremely subtle gradations of light and shade, produce those tactile values of Western art. Three Qu LeiLei paintings will be offered during the auctions. One of them, titled ‘The Future Remains in Our Hands’, has been kindly donated by Qu LeiLei for a charity auction at the Bonhams Charity Dinner to benefit Operation Smile China Medical Mission to be held on 22 May on the opening night of the Spring Auctions.

Highlights of the sale include:
Lot 702
‘Calligraphy in Running Script’ by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Estimate: HK$1,000,000 – 1,500,000

This poem of large characters was written by Wen in a handscroll format at a ripe, old age of 81, demonstrating his sustained calligraphic brilliance. Influenced by the great Song Dynasty calligrapher, Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), Wen’s writing is powerful, tense, and bursting with energy, at the same time not without rhythm and spontaneity. He also achieved his own style by incorporating the running script of Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk and calligrapher Huai Su (737–799) into his regular script.

Lot 703
‘Searching for Demons in the Mountain’ by an anonymous painter (Yuan/Ming Dynasty)
Estimate: HK$700,000 – 1,000,000

This work is the only example based on folk literature in Chinese narrative painting. There are approximately 10 or so extant works on this theme that are kept in the collections of public museums and in private hands. Lot 703 is considered to be one of the earliest and better, but incomplete versions, which is similar to the one housed in the Beijing Palace Museum. In this rendition of ‘Searching for Demons in the Mountain’, axe-cut strokes provide a sense of rocky texture to the landscape, while the figures are delicately drawn in fine lines. The facial treatment and robes of the two female demons at the left are reminiscent of those in ‘Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk’ attributed to Emperor Huizong (1082-1135).

Lot 727
‘Lady Seated Beneath Bamboo’ by Xu Beihong (1895-1953)
Estimate upon upon request

This is an important version of the artist’s renditions of Du Fu (712-770)’s ‘Forgetting Her Thin Silk Sleeve and the Cold’, a famous line in the Tang Dynasty poet’s work titled ‘Alone in her Beauty’. The lady leans by a tall bamboo; in her classic beauty, we see an air of modernity unique to women of the Republican period. Although Xu employed western techniques to portray ‘Lady Seated Beneath Bamboo’, the painting style is predominantly traditional Chinese. The lady’s appearance and disposition, however, are modern, which is a noted departure from traditional Chinese paintings of beautiful women.

Lot 747
‘Golden Forest’ by Lin Fengmian (1900-1991)
Estimate: HK$1,500,000 – 2,500,000

In this painting, Lin depicted an enchanting landscape surrounded by peaks and streams. A ray of sunlight permeates the forest and shines on the rustic house, adding to the loveliness and warmth of the scene. Lin studied Western painting in France and sought to blend the best of both Eastern and Western art after his return to China. His style is evident in the use of vibrant colours and rich layering. Although the artist combined Western techniques into the Chinese ink medium, the lines and inner appeal of this work still retain aesthetics of Chinese ink painting.

Lot 741
‘Blue and Red Lotus’ by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)
Estimate: HK$3,500,000 – 5,000,000

The artist used bold, freehand brushwork to portray the fragrant summer lotus pond. Broad strokes and washes heighten the sense of naturalism, conveying moisture and freshness to the scene. The lotus leaves are expressed in blue coloured washes of varying gradations, accented by flowers in pale red with petal tips delineated in darker ink.

Lot 743
‘Blue and Green Mountain’ by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)
Estimate: HK$4,200,000 – 6,200,000

This work exemplifies the artist’s maturity in his splashed colour technique, where he applied free, wet applications of ink to denote rocks and mountains, instead of using texture strokes. The layering effect is rich in this painting, which was executed in Zhang’s later years. Saturated areas of wash evoke a spirit of spontaneity to the composition, which is balanced by careful rendering of details as well as thoughtful placement of inscriptions and seals.

Lot 800
‘Bailong Bridge in Mount Huang’ by Liu Haisu (1896-1994)
Estimate: HK$1,200,000 – 1,800,000

Liu Haisu painted this work in 1954 after his 6th attempt at climbing up Mount Huang. He gained unprecedented enlightenment and specially created a seal that read ‘Mount Huang was my teacher then, I am a friend of Mount Huang now’ to commemorate the success of his trip. The lines in this work are powerful and vigorous, exemplifying Liu’s profound expertise in Chinese painting and his understanding of the western stylistic expression. Liu’s confident, unrestrained strokes combined with rich colours add to the grandeur and artistic interest of Mount Huang.

Lot 786
‘Yulong Mountain’ by Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010)
Estimate: HK$2,500,000 – 4,500,000

Fond of Yulong Mountain, Wu created approximately ten works of similar subject matter in drawing, album leaves and larger format from 1978 to 1990, this being one of them. This work extends the artist's exploration of Yulong Mountain, portraying the snow-covered and fog-enlaced meandering ranges that resemble a jade dragon lying in the clouds.

Lot 805
‘Taichi Arch’ by Ju Ming (Zhu Ming, b.1938)
Estimate: HK$2,200,000 – 2,800,000

As the first formal pose in the ‘Taichi’ series, the inspiration of this sculpture evolved from ‘Taichi Pushing Hands’. ‘Taichi Arch’ is considered to be Ju Ming’s grand finale in his internationally acclaimed ‘Taichi’ series. In this work, the flow of energy is evident despite the absence of physical hands. This is a fine example of the artist’s abstract and modern stylistic creations, conveying his aesthetic and creative concepts as well as deep reverence for nature.

Lot 812
‘Lying on Tapestry’ by Qu LeiLei (b.1951)
Estimate: HK$200,000 – 300,000

This painting is from Qu LeiLei’s series ‘Brush, Ink, Light, Shadow’. In this series Qu practices and explores both Eastern and Western aesthetic concepts. The image here combines an Oriental spirit with Western tactile values exploring how the brush on Xuan paper can create light and shadow. Strict adherence is given to the build up of the human structure. The image holds a variety of elements of yin and yang contrasts including black, white and grey, lightness and heaviness, intricate complexity and freehand simplicity plus solidity and emptiness. Collectively, these elements create an aesthetically stimulating image.

Lot 813
‘We Are Invincible’ by Qu LeiLei (b.1951)
Estimate: HK$200,000 – 300,000

This painting is from Qu LeiLei’s series ‘Thousands of Years of Empire’. In this series Qu reflects on his understanding of history and culture. Apart from using traditional materials and methods, he also uses surrealistic languages as a means of travelling through time to find grid references to modern history. In the individuals he portrays, he explores the idea of the dual relationship between the personal and the comparatively impersonal identity of the common man and the human condition in the context of a whole national identity.

Lot 818
‘Chinese Girl Series’ by Qi Zhilong (b.1962)
Estimate: HK$140,000 – 190,000

This painting is representative of Qi Zhilong’s kitsch canvases. The female figure is dressed in military uniform, yet exudes femininity and radiant beauty. This work recalls nostalgia for a past era, having experienced the Cultural Revolution and the urban-to-rural migration among intellectuals, known in Chinese as ‘up to the mountains and down to the farms’. This work embodies the prevalent Chinese aesthetics of extracting warmth and optimism from the dark cruelty. Through the faded uniform and the absence of cap badges, Qi suggests the bygone revolutionary era, which thought-provokingly, juxtaposes with the youthfulness and attractiveness of the girl.

Lot 824
‘Memories from the Past No. 27’ by Zhu Yiyong (b.1957)
Estimate: HK$190,000 – 280,000

Zhu Yiyong’s ‘Memories’ series have the exceptional aesthetic qualities of Hyperreaslim, notably the perfect flat brush work and the intricate rendering of anatomy and clothes’ folds, and the subtlety and soft elegance of the grey monochrome of the portrait. This work is one of the most accomplished in the series and a beautiful portrait of a young lady in military clad. The motif of the Cat’s cradle, the red star, solely painted in colour and in relief, very textured and almost crisscrossed conveys the artist’s message. Zhu Yiyong dwells on the collective memory of the Communist past. Through a reference to the lost innocence of childhood, he brings attention to its reality, which differs from the romantic version conveyed by propaganda.

Lot 825
‘Legacy Mantle’ by Sui Jianguo (b.1956)
Estimate: HK$150,000 - 190,000

‘Legacy Mantle’, a sculpture by Sui Jianguo, is perhaps the icon in the medium of sculpture in contemporary art in China. The hollow "Mao jacket" is a metaphor for the heritage of Sun Yat-sen and its appropriation by Mao Zedong, conveyed through the image of his garment. The ambiguity of the tribute to Mao lies in the idea of the hollowness of the Maoist past rhetoric, and the formalism and rigidity of the conformist collectivism of the Communist system. The choice of such contemporary material as resin and rendition add to the meaning of the work. The jacket, black in this instance, also represents a dark cloak that covered and contained China during that time. This very sleek and utterly contemporary version in the series very rarely appears on the market.

Lot 826
‘Clothed Discobolus’ by Sui Jianguo (b.1956)
Estimate: HK$220,000 - 320,000

‘Clothed Discobolus’, by Sui Jianguo is a take on a canon of antique Western sculpture. In Sui Jianguo's version the athlete wears Mao's, or rather Sun yat-sen's costume. The artist plays on the re-modeling of Western models with Chinese characteristics, as this suit first came from the West, like the antique model for arts training. The material chosen, bronze, is a reference to the role of copy in art history as the lost Greek original was made of bronze and is only know through its marble Roman copy. Sui Jianguo shows his mastery of anatomy, clothes folds and his irony through these references to very contemporary issues in China, the invasion of Western models and their copying.

Lot 846
‘Bathing at the Well II’ by U Lun Gywe (Burmese, b.1930)
Estimate: HK$65,000 - 85,000

The Burmese modern and contemporary art market is most probably the next one to blossom in Asia. U Lun Gywe is one of the most established living masters in Burma. His aesthetic sensibilities combine French Impressionism, Oriental roots and his own Burmese heritage. This painting seemingly depicts a scene of everyday life, women bathing at the well, but is infused with the romanticism of the technique and rendering in long strong brushstrokes. This work exemplifies the artist's technique and style. U Lun Gywe has extensive exhibition records in Myanmar and abroad; his works are in the collections of the National Museum of Myanmar and the National Art Gallery of Malaysia.

Lot 841
‘Balinese Spinner’ by Lee Manfong (Indonesian, 1913-1988)
Estimate: HK$250,000 – 350,000

The artist left for the Netherlands in 1946, spending six years there to further his studies. Although heavily influenced by Rembrandt (1606-1669), Lee succeeded in creating oil paintings in an Oriental style imbued with a strong Southeast Asian flavour. After returning to Indonesia from the Netherlands in 1952, he painted many Balinese-themed works, in praise of the rich history of Balinese culture in Indonesia. Compared with other similarly themed works, this rendering of a Balinese spinner is more refined; the facial expression of the figure is more gentle and peaceful. The work conveys feelings of poetry and romance that capture our imagination.

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