For centuries, brushwork has been the primary criterion for determining authenticity in Chinese paintings and calligraphy. The importance of brushwork analysis prevails, even in this digital age when we are armed with sophisticated technology and powerful software programs to authenticate and date artworks scientifically. An abundance of crucial information can be deduced from looking at brushwork, such as the approximate age of the artist, the time period in which the artwork was created, and the lineage of influences that inspired the artist. Using highlights from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale, we reveal a few tips on how to identify quality in brushwork.
WANG JIAN (1598-1677), LANDSCAPES AFTER SONG AND YUAN MASTERS, INK AND COLOR ON PAPER, SET OF SIX FRAMED ALBUM LEAVES. ESTIMATE $400,000–600,000.
Landscapes after Song and Yuan Masters is a set of six framed album leaves by Wang Jian, who was a genius at complex brushwork techniques. He spent his student years imitating artworks by a canonical lineage of predecessors. The objective was not to close copy, but to learn a mesmerizing array of brushworks by heart. Eventually, through brushwork alone Wang Jian was able to revive stylistic and spiritual qualities found in classical prototypes. With such an unparalleled repertoire of techniques, he distinguished himself from his predecessors and contemporaries to become a preeminent leader of the seventeenth century Orthodox School.
By the time Wang Jian was painting Landscapes after Song and Yuan Masters, he had already reached a mature stage in his artistic career. By referencing various masters, namely Fan Kuan, Zhao Lingrang, Li Tang, Zhao Mengfu, Huang Gongwang and Wang Meng dating to the Five Dynasties, Song, and Yuan periods, he demands to be judged alongside them. Wang Jian borrowed several stylistic elements from each master, allowing him to elaborate his own landscape. We see Fan Kuan in the densely dotted clumps of trees on mountain tops, Zhao Lingrang in the bold palette of robust blues and greens, Huang Gongwang in the interweaving hilltops and plateaus, and Wang Meng in the mountain forms that look like Taihu rocks. One of the six album leaves, After Zhao Mengfu, was published in Maxwell Hearn, Wen Fong, and Chin-Sung Chang’s book Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632-1717).
BADA SHANREN (1626-1705), CALLIGRAPHY IN RUNNING SCRIPT, INK ON PAPER, SET OF FOUR HANGING SCROLLS. ESTIMATE $260,000–320,000.
Bada Shanren was a great individualist master who wrote calligraphy in his own personal style, free from codified systems of his era. He habitually employed the middle tip of his brush to produce lean but rounded lines. Such a regulated way of writing allowed his calligraphy to appear smooth and structured without obvious folding or turning. With the above technique, Bada Shanren was able to use oblique or slanted characters rather than symmetrical and straight ones without compromising on an overall unified appearance of balance and harmony. Among the four panels, one panel starting with the characters Baihua was twice published; the other three according to Cheng Qi in his book Xuanhui Tang Shu Hua Lu was mentioned in Ting Feng Lou Shu Hua Ji, and was likely once paired with bird and flower paintings by the artist, which had been lost in succeeding centuries.
KUNCAN (1612-AFTER 1674), RECLUSE IN DEEP WHITE CLOUDS, INK AND COLOR ON PAPER, HANGING SCROLL. ESTIMATE $200,000–250,000.
Kuncan is known for his restless and complicated brushstrokes, which gives off the appearance of coarse fabric or messy hair. In Recluse in Deep White Clouds for example rocks, mountains, and trees embody the dry and unsettled texture strokes typical of his style. Kuncan did not seek to represent civilized formality but he was capable of meticulous details, which is a prominent feature in Recluse, setting this painting apart from the rest of the artist’s repertoire. The overall cleanliness of conception and an elegant choice of gentle colours make this painting a skilled and thoughtful masterpiece that is seasoned with experience from the artist’s old age. The current owner of Recluse was an old acquaintance of General Zhang Xueliang in the nineteen eighties and nineties. Zhang presented Recluse as a gift of appreciation in return for all the help he received upon his arrival in the United States.
WANG CHONG (1494-1533), ESSAYS BY JI KANG IN REGULAR SCRIPT, INK ON PAPER, ALBUM OF THIRTY-EIGHT LEAVES. ESTIMATE $100,000–150,000.
Essays by Ji Kang is a collection of three articles, Essay on Nourishing Life, Essay on Intrinsic Fondness for Learning, and Adjourn to Juran. Throughout the entire album, the calligrapher Wang Chong maintains a consistent quality of line, which demonstrates a high level of vigilance and superior command of the brush. Two colophons by Guan Yong and Shao Songnian follow the artwork, and one publication Cheng Lan Shi Gu Yuan Cui Lu written by Shao Songnian validates the piece.
WU CHANGSHUO (1844-1927), LONGEVITY PEACH, INK AND COLOR ON GOLD PAPER, SCREEN. ESTIMATE $200,000–250,000.
Screen painting Longevity Peach by Wu Changshuo is extraordinary for its monumental size, full composition, exuberant colors, and weighty brushstrokes. Gold paper has a smooth surface that resists ink, which either results in sloppy brushstrokes and dripping ink, or as in this case brushstrokes with a marvelous sense of control due to attentive execution. The artist was seventy-six sui in 1919 when he created this artwork. He dedicated the piece to Junzo Kosaka who was a successful Japanese politician and business magnate. This floor screen along with lots 1212 and 1213 was once conjoined to make six panels. Such majestic scale is a rare find among artworks created on gold paper.