20th Century Chinese Art


Wang Yidong
signed in pinyin and Chinese and dated 1998; Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong labels affixed to the reverse
oil on canvas
190.5 by 180.5 cm.   75 by 71 1/8  in.
Zustandsbericht lesen Zustandsbericht lesen


Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong
Important Private Collection


Hong Kong, Schoeni Art Gallery, Wang Yidong Solo Exhibition, March, 1998


Wang Yidong, Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 160 - 163, illustrated in colour
Li Fang & Ma Li ed., In Search of Beauty, Tianjin Yangliuqing Fine Arts Press, Tianjin, 2005, p. 93, illustrated in colour
Hu Jiangbin ed., The Chinese Contemporary Distinguished Oil Painter: Wang Yidong,
People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2006, p. 57 - 59, illustrated in colour


Property from an Important Private Collection
Wang Yidong’s Festive Masterpiece from the 1990s
Teasing the Newlyweds

Teasing the Newlyweds is the first-ever large-scale group portrait by China’s leading realist painter Wang Yidong. The work bears full witness to Wang’s deeply thoughtful observation on rural life, as well as his technique in wielding the finest details even on the largest of canvasses. It is a representative work, marking an artistic pinnacle at the outset of Wang’s mature period.

A rural group portrait filled to the brim with love

Teasing the Newlyweds was created during Spring Festival of 1998, when Wang Yidong was visiting his family in his hometown, Yimeng Mountain. It depicts a young couple on their wedding night participating in the ritual of “teasing the newlyweds.” In both form and composition, this work belongs to the genre of “group portraits.” Most such examples in the Chinese tradition are associated with myths, religion or history since the ancient times. Assessed from the viewpoint of realism, Teasing the Newlyweds owes more of its inspiration to the West. Portraiture has long been an important genre in Western art, dating as early as the Renaissance. (The group portrait of militiamen in The Night Watch by Rembrandt, for example, has accorded the painter with unprecedented fame throughout the centuries.)

The complexity of Teasing the Newlyweds lies in how the painter highlights the uniqueness of each villager attending the festivities, at the same time balancing them with a primary focus on the young couple. To underscore the nuances among the characters, Wang employs a toast with bowls of wine to capture different responses of the wedding guests, creating a composition that is festive and lively while emphasizing each individual’s mindset. The creative concept behind this painting aptly matches that of Rembrandt.

Transplanting Western technique, creating a classic Asian scenario

Through the manipulation of light sources, Western painting creates dramatic effects through the strong contrasts between light and dark. The technique of chiaroscuro distinguished 16th- and 17th-century painters such as Caravaggio and Georges de La Tour, who elevated their art to ever new heights. In the composition of Teasing the Newlyweds, the artist employs four large red candles in the middle of the canvas. Not only does the candlelight illuminate all of the characters in the scene, but its gradations also distinguish primary and secondary figures from the middle to those lining the two sides, echoing their inebriated states and creating a stage-like effect.

Nurtured by long experiences of social movements

We must delve into the state of society in appreciating Wang Yidong’s success in rural portraits. In the 1980s and 1990s, China entered an era of opening and reform. Artists who came to the fore at that time had all been close to the masses, having survived numerous social movements in the decades prior. Therefore, an unprecedented wave of representations that depict rural life and sentiments dominated the artistic mainstream.

Much like the writer Mo Yan, a fellow Shandong native who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012 for his novels capturing Chinese rural life, Wang Yidong is the best representative of painters cut from the same cloth. There are nineteen different sentiments and reactions by the nineteen characters in Teasing the Newlyweds. Apart from meticulously depicting each of the characters, Wang also carefully coordinates their interaction, creating a sense of balance for the whole composition. Compared with Wang’s paintings that feature single characters, this canvas prominently displays his hard work and determination to distill and gather all that constitute the essence of life.

Crossing over to the film medium

Looking from an even larger perspective, during the years when Wang Yidong promoted
the wonders of Chinese village life, Chinese filmmakers also created masterpieces out of the same dedication and mission, among them Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum and Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth, both of which won accolades and critical acclaim in China and beyond. Wang Yidong is a film aficionado, and his works also radiate a strong film aesthetic. Teasing the Newlyweds might illustrate village life, but the artist injects much of his own in terms of scenic composition, characterization, lighting, costumes and props. All of these are carefully organized to create the most dramatic effects.

Debut offering of a premier work

Very few of Wang Yidong’s output are group portraits. After its completion in 1998, Teasing the Newlyweds entered a private collection. The sequel, Teasing the Newlyweds No.2 – Lucky Cigarettes, was offered in Sotheby’s 2008 Fall Sale, fetching an auction price (including commission) at HK$12.98 million, a record for Wang’s work that held for two subsequent years, attesting to its outstanding allure. This offer heralds the first-ever return of the premier work of this celebrated series; it will undoubtedly be the centre of attention for collectors.

20th Century Chinese Art