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Sotheby's to offer exceptional 20th century Chinese masterpieces from a distinguished private collection
Zao Wou-ki’s (1920–2013) 15.1.82 (triptych), oil on canvas, 1982, 195.3 x 390.5 cm (Est.: HK$68 –90 million/ US$ 8.7 – 11.5 million). Photo: Sotheby's.
HONG KONG.- To mark its 40th anniversary in Asia, Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Autumn 2013 Sale Series will be spearheaded by the eagerly anticipated Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale at 7pm on Saturday, 5 October, 2013, which will combine the best offerings of our 20th Century Chinese Art, Contemporary Asian Art and Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art categories. Presenting over 50 works of art of superb quality, this very special celebratory Evening Sale will have the highest total estimate of any comparable sale in Asia. The evening will be led by a remarkable group of seven museum-quality works by modern Chinese masters from A Distinguished Private Collection. These highly important paintings in oil by Sanyu, Zao Wou-ki and Wu Guanzhong, widely recognised as the most sought-after artists in modern Chinese art today, were created at seminal moments in their respective artistic careers. All of the works have been exhibited at major art institutions or museum exhibitions and will appear for the first time at auction or after a long absence from the market.

Estimated at over HK$211 million / US$27.1* million, the group of seven works from A Distinguished Private Collection coming to the market provides an outstanding collecting opportunity for discerning collectors. Highlights from the Evening Sale, including works from this Collection, will be on view in Asia throughout September.

The collector, who is generously parting with these seven seminal pieces in celebration of Sotheby’s 40th anniversary in Asia, has left his collecting footprints in the modern and contemporary art world in both the East and the West. The collector’s discerning eye for works of art of the highest quality has long been recognised by the international art world. Numerous works from this prestigious collection have been on loan to world-class museums for their important exhibitions. Furthermore, a renowned international art institution held an exhibition dedicated to this distinguished collection to showcase and celebrate the dialogue between Western and Eastern art.

Sylvie Chen, Head of 20th Century Chinese Art Department, said: “This season, we are honoured to have been entrusted with the sale of the group of seven superb works by modern Chinese masters from this Distinguished Private Collection at our 40th anniversary in Asia. We are immensely grateful to the collector for his long support and for his trust and confidence in Sotheby’s. The collection itself embodies the development of modern Chinese art in the 20th century and these seven selected works are the masterpieces of the era. The appearance of these works at auction manifests the collector’s exquisite taste, and serves as a catalyst to further the developments of the 20th century modern Chinese art market. This group of rare works will no doubt mark a significant milestone in the flourishing market, and present an unprecedented opportunity for collectors to make important acquisitions.”

THREE LARGE-SCALE REPRESENTATIVE WORKS BY ZAO WOU-KI
Sotheby’s has held the auction record for any Zao Wou-ki work since the artist’s 10.1.68 was sold for HK$689.8 million / US$88.4 million at the sale of 20th Century Chinese Art in October 2011. This October, three of Zao’s most important large-scale works from the 1960s to 1990s will be offered at auction for the first time. These significant large-format pieces rarely come on to the market and are expected to draw intense bidding.

Zao Wou-ki 15.1.82 (triptych), oil on canvas, 1982, 195.3 x 390.5 cm. Est.: HK$68 –90 million / US$8.7 – 11.5 million
Zao Wou-ki reached the peak of his artistic output from 1979 to early 1980 when he created many large-format paintings, and was recognised by the international art world for his perfect ability to infuse the spirit of Chinese ink into Western oil paintings. In 1981, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris held an exhibition, Zao Wou-ki. It was the first time for such a prestigious national art institution in France to hold an exhibition for a living Chinese artist, who was by then already a French citizen. At the end of 1979, Zao was also invited for a solo show in New York by the influential Pierre Matisse Gallery – almost 15 years after his last show in the city with Kootz Gallery which closed in 1967– a testament to the fact that Zao had transformed from a modern Chinese artist living in Paris into one of the international contemporary masters.

The three monumental works by Zao in this group are led by the present large-format 15.1.82 (triptych) created in 1982 at the peak of the artist’s creativity.

In the early 1980s, Zao was recovering from the loss of his loved ones and gradually resuming his work in infusing Chinese ink spirit on to canvas. In many of the paintings from this period, somber tones could be seen giving way to brighter, lighter colours. Zao also threw himself into creating a number of large-format, majestic polyptych works, as though they were to provide expression for the joys of life he rediscovered. As one of the most representative pieces in this oeuvre, 15.1.82 (triptych) stands out with its subtle beauty and richness. Here, the artist delves into his inner world and memories for inspiration. It is deep within this sublime state that he channels his streams of consciousness and projects them upon canvas, creating a world of mist, rain and vapors in the process. Applying a highly unique method, Zao dips his paintbrush in yellow ochre and light purple dyes, then unleashes a flurry of fine strokes across the canvas. In essence, 15.1.82 (triptych) celebrates the aesthetics of a mature painter who, in his early sixties, had achieved the mental transition to become free of worry and cravings.

Zao Wou-ki created over a thousand works in his lifetime, but based on public records and literatures, there are only 17 large-scale triptychs published and are all held in prestigious public museums and private collections. 15.1.82 (triptych) has been exhibited at Zao Wou-ki’s first solo exhibition at the National Museum of History, Taipei (1983), as well as exhibitions at Galerie de France (1984), Fuji Television Gallery, Japan (1987) and Saatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Germany (2008). Featured in many publications dedicated to Zao and his works, 15.1.82 (triptych) is one of the artist’s most important and seminal works. This gigantic triptych also represents the key stylistic transition Zao underwent during this significant period.

Zao Wou-ki, 22.8.91, oil on canvas, 1991162 x 150 cm. Est.: HK$20–30 million / US$ 2.6 –3.8 million
The 1990s saw Zao Wou-ki embracing a keener sense of freedom that he applied to his art. Creatively, he subverted the existing norms as well as the conventional composition styles and layouts. As he abandoned a “focused” approach for a more “ diffuse” style, a shift in the visual composition of his works emerged. Structurally, some of his paintings are void of imagery in the middle. He also often adopted an outflanking method and chose to use bright and vivid colours. The present example, 22.8.91, a painting never appeared at auction before, exemplifies this approach. Yellow, painted in varying degrees of brightness, provides the central palette of the work. Through layering along with the use of wash effects, the colour is skillfully administered to evoke the effects of a crystalline golden light. Shades of purple, executed with swift, robust brushstrokes, wrap smoothly around the yellow disc on top and to the right. The effect is almost like an adventurer exploring a mysterious ancient cave with a flickering torchlight. This, clearly, is an attempt boldly undertaken to juxtapose two colours to achieve an impression of contrast yet harmony. Zao Wou-ki seeks to present the glittering outside world, as he perceives it, on canvas.

Zao Wou-ki, 30.7.64, oil on canvas, 1964, 149.8 x 161.8cm. Est.: HK$30 –50 million / US$3.8 –6.4 million
In the 1960s, Zao had already cast aside all considerations of technique to paint what his heart desired. Challenging himself to take on larger canvases, he channelled all his energies into the endeavor, whereby the visual contrasts and monochromatic colours seem to pulse on the canvas with life and dynamism. This is rendered to perfection in 30.7.64, now brought to the auction market for the first time. Zao reduced the colours applied to a basic contrast of brownish black and white in this painting. Sturdy brushstrokes are executed with speed and force, in Chinese calligraphic style. The visual outcome is the image of an air column spiralling upwards, underscoring the artist’s ability in rendering the unseen wind and cosmic forces visible, to be forever imprinted on the canvas. This is one of the current owner’s favourite works by Zao Wou-ki, and has been in his care for over a decade.

THREE IMPORTANT PAINTINGS BY SANYU WITH DIFFERENT SUBJECTS

Sanyu (1901 –1966), Goldfish, 1930s –1940s, oil on canvas, 73.8 x 50.2 cm. Est.: HK$50 –70 million / US$6.4 –9 million

It is important to note that in the exquisite and very rare oil on canvas Goldfish, Sanyu uses the auspicious Chinese symbol, the swimming goldfish, signifying “yearly surplus”, to be his main subject for the first and only time. Although Sanyu included the motif of fish several times in his later works, such as Lotus et Poissons Rouges (sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2009), painted in the mid-1950s, and the large scale six-panel work Lotus and White Crane (six-panel screen) (1940 – 1950s), the subject of fish never featured so prominently again. Also distinct from the early works-dominated by soft pink and white hues which Sanyu painted in his Pink Period in the 1930s, in Goldfish, almost in contrast, Sanyu’s use of coral red and white, the colours closely associated with Chinese culture, is a bold and concise effort to delineate spatial relationships. The theme of abundance and positive feeling is echoed in Sanyu’s self-assuredness and boldness, evident in his great skills to bring the fish to life with such simple brushstrokes, performed with preciseness and speed.

Goldfish bears a distinguished provenance. Over the past 60 years, this remarkable work has only been in two collections. The first was Robert Frank, a famous American photographer, who was also a close friend of Sanyu’s, for whom Sotheby’s held a dedicated sale for his collection in 1997 in Taiwan. The present owner seized the unique opportunity and acquired the work at this auction. As the most important work in the sale, Goldfish was naturally chosen as the cover illustration of the auction catalogue. This work was later featured in the Sanyu Scholarship Fund handbook published by Yale University, as well as the invitation card of the Sanyu exhibition in National Museum of History in Taipei in 2001. The painting’s re-emergence on the market after its long absence from the public eye is set to spark another bout of market frenzy.

Sanyu, Fruits, 1930s, oil on canvas, 49.9 x 65.3 cm Est.: HK$18-25 million / US$2.3 -3.2 million
Also formally in the collection of famous American photographer, Robert Frank, Fruits is a classic still life painted by Sanyu in the 1930s. Executed on canvas and embodying the classical Chinese spirit of simplicity, the composition appears split in three portions, through the use of colours, to depict a black table top with a white table runner across it. If the fruits in the centre are overlooked, the viewer can find an interesting connection between Sanyu’s present work from 1930s and the works by the younger Western abstract artist Mark Rothko from the late 1940s onwards. Sanyu’s deft brushstrokes, executed in varying degrees of strength, create a layout of lines, coloured portions and surfaces to give the fruits and vegetables form and dimension. This visual arrangement reflects creative ingenuity, preciseness and purity, so intelligently and skillfully evoked from the painter’s steep foundation in classical Chinese painting and calligraphy.

Sanyu, Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus, 1930s, oil on canvas, 55.1 x 45.9cm Est.: HK$15 - 20 million / US$1.9 – 2.6 million
Completed in the 1930s, Virgin Mary and Jesus is Sanyu’s only known composition to directly address the theme of religious faith. In this painting, Virgin Mary cradles the sacred infant Jesus, but the two come across not as lofty personalities, but instead commonplace statues found in many homes. Part portraiture and part still life, the imagery bespeaks a transcendental religiosity combined with mortal existence. Not only is the image of the religious statue delineated in a down-to-earth style, it also hints at Sanyu’s yearnings for his hometown and mother during his distant travels. Another stroke of genius lies in the mirror backdrop. The religious figurine stands alone before the mirror, which shows its back reflection, magnifying the sense of space. While providing a study of emptiness and form, the work also makes expressive use of “empty space’, a concept borrowed from traditional Chinese paintings.

WU GUANZHONG
Wu Guanzhong (1919 –2010), Mountain Lu, oil on board, 1974, 45.8 x 59.8cm Est.: HK$10-20 million / US$1.3 –2.6 million

From 1973, Wu Guanzhong ’s reputation in China spread further through the many exhibitions of his works as well as the important painting commissions he received from several national museums and government institutions. In Mountain Lu, a composition he executed in the 1970s, Wu Guanzhong adopted an unusual vantage point to offer a glimpse of mountain scenery through the crisscrossing branches of four trees. The natural beauty of these gnarled trees is expressed through their varying heights, accentuated by the different light angles and subtle colour differences of distant and closer objects. The spirit of unyielding sturdiness that the trees embody is also vividly captured, thanks to the painter’s steady grasp of calligraphy techniques and its inventive application. Houses in the middle ground are scattered across a valley, extending their way to the mountain top. Perspective mapping is applied not just to add colour and life to the composition but also to lengthen its depth of field. With its natural convergence of Western painting techniques with Chinese aesthetics, Mountain Lu is endowed with a fresh vitality rarely seen in other similar works.






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