Within the painting, a slight figure bundled, bundled in a Tibetan jacket, treads upon the wild marshland. Absent is the image of the Tibetan landscape, solemn and sombre, with snowflakes fluttering in the wind, yet even under the blinding, burning sunlight, one still hears the shrill whistle of harsh, bitter wind across the open plains. The young girl, bent at the waist by the forces of enormous loneliness and quiet, and the bamboo basket, has her back against the blue skies of the heavens. Under the punishing living codes and severe enforcements of social order in the Tibetan region, the young silhouette appears before the viewer, clear, backlit, like a wild flower scattered to the wind.
On June 5, 1988, Sotheby’s hosted a charity auction event at the Forbidden City in Beijing, titled ‘The Return of Marco Polo,” with proceeds going to the benefit of the safeguard of Venice and the Great Wall of China. With this event, Sotheby’s became the first international auction house to host such an event in Mainland China. It was then that Ai Xuan’s Lonely Marshland first appeared in auction alongside the works of Picasso, Rauschenberg, and those of other masters. The next day, The China Daily devoted front-page coverage to the event, garnering the intense interest of readers at home and abroad. A photo of two youths holding up Ai Xuan’s painting has since become a historical symbol in the journey and development of China’s art auction market. China’s native realism has grown from the mud of the era’s sediment. In its attitude of reverence and awe towards reality, the movement gained direction and clarity. After 26 years, Lonely Marshland has returned to Sotheby’s, embodied in it both memories of scars as well as comfort and relief from them. Ai Xuan’s focus on the native land still runs in his poetic blood, a passion towards which the artist will remain ever faithful. It is undeniable that this painting is a critical milestone in the artist’s career, carrying with it special historical significance.
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