Beijing- In June of 2015, works by some of China’s most distinguished artists including Zao Wou-ki, Liu Xiaodong and Wang Xingwei, were offered at Sotheby's spring sale in Beijing. Pieces by young and emerging artists also performed strongly in the sale, proving that young artists with great potential come to dominate the market. This preference further demonstrates a rapid sophistication in the contemporary Chinese art market, with collecting tastes becoming increasingly lucid and refined.

web-Iain-Robertson-portraitDr. Iain Robertson
Head of the Art Business Studies at
Sotheby's Institute of Art

Robust offerings of art, ranging from figurative, abstract, ink and wash, sold well and showcased the strong diversity of this year’s sale. Led by Zao Wou-ki’s 15.2.93, which sold for 10,856,000 RMB, the Beijing spring sale totaled 4,048 million RMB. 

Following a Chinese art market interview which occurred in Hong Kong back in February, Dr. Iain Robertson – Head of Art Business Studies at Sotheby's Institute of Art– has hosted various education programs in Beijing dedicated to getting those interested in art ready for the Beijing spring auction. His lecture, in conjunction with the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University provide the audience a vision of the Impact of Western art on Asian Modern and Contemporary Art.

The following is an excerpt of Dr. Robertson’s lecture:

There is a persistent influence on Asian art, which emanates from the West. It is referred to as Orientalism. Its authority is compounded by the later impact of the art of Soviet Socialist Realism. The late ‘Treaty Port’ painters of Canton and Shanghai, who emulated the work of the itinerant English painter, George Chinnery (1774-1852), have a place in these dystopic art markets, as do the native followers of the European, Mooi Indies School artists in Indonesia.

PORTRAIT OF HOU QUA (Sold for: 69,600 GBP) by George Chinnery

There is a third strain of art in this vein, the origin of which lies in Academic Realism. This art emanates from European art academies at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The stiff oil paintings of Xu Beihong (1895-1953), the romanticised portraits of the Indian, Raj artist, Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) and the archetypal ‘beauties’ depicted by Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972) in the Philippines, characterise the best work in this tradition. 

Out of this interest in representing an objective reality, there evolved numerous indigenous practitioners who have applied the techniques inherent in descriptive Western art and early Modernist developments in European art to their own work. The Chinese artists; Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) and Sanyu (1901-1966), were clearly affected respectively by the art of the German Expressionists and Matisse. Two émigré Europeans, Walter Spies (1895-1942) and Rudolf Bonnet (1895-1978) founded a society for the advancement of Balinese art, known as Pita Maha, which revitalised, but also 'modernised' traditional craft.

The examples I have cited hereto, illustrate the direct influence of Western artists and their techniques on Asian art . But there are post-war artistic movements from Japan and East Asia that have evolved in harmony with the Western avant-garde. The achievement of the Mono-ha and Daksekhwa ink and brush art movements is considered to be as significant to the post-war, late Modernist corpus as is the work of their European and American counterparts. The meditative component to this art is enhanced by the intensive concentration on materials and the process of making. Both these elements can be found in Arte Povera, one of the foremost aesthetic statements in recent art history. In this instance, it is less the influence of the West on Asia than a universal, cultural concatenation.

Hero image: MIGHTY SPRING CLOUDS, by Lin Haizhong, sold in Beijing Sale for 259,600 RMB