Details & Cataloguing

Liu Dan
signed LIU DAN, titled, inscribed, dated 1992, and with one seal of the artist

This work is accompanied with a folding album colophon which is titled, inscribed, dated 2013 April, and with five seals of the Master of the Water, Pine, and Stone Retreat.

A record of strange events.

When Liu Dan visited me at my home in Sussex in the early 1990s, he stayed for a few weeks painting in my studio, a large room which had previously served as a ballroom.  We had not fully moved in at that time as we were still living in Hong Kong, so the house was still furnished with the previous owner's furniture, to which I had added as a coffee table in the ballroom a large crate which contained a strange stone bought in Taiwan a few months earlier and, shipped to me but not yet unpacked.

As Dan was preparing to leave, he asked me what was in the crate and I told him.  He exclaimed that he loved old stones, and we should unpack it immediately so he could see it, laughing that he had been drinking his tea off the crate for several weeks without my mentioning what it contained.  We opened it immediately and he was astonished.  He became very excited, saying it was the stone of his dreams, and the finest he had ever seen.  So I cut my love for it and gave it to him as a present, immediately repacking it in the crate and sending it to his studio in Hawaii.  He painted two large paintings of it, and one or two smaller ones, and I acquired one large and two of the smaller versions.  Later he also did me a handscroll of five views of it for my fiftieth birthday, promising to do five more when I was one hundred years old.

The following year, he was with us at our home in Shatin, where he met my brother-in-law Sam and they became friends.  Before leaving Dan painted a small version of the stone and inscribed it as a gift for Sam, with the stone depicted as a standing stone, noting that he had painted it at my home.  Sam died, and the painting passed to his son, who does not share his father's love of paintings, nor appreciation for art and as so often with works of art the time comes for it to find its new owner.

So I write this small album as a record of events, and to recall those happy days in Sussex and Shatin with my good friend Dan, and remember the many lessons I learned from him as I too took up the brush.

Inscribed for the new owner of the vertical Heavenly Pipes at the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat, now a terrace dangling over Central Hong Kong above the thrum of traffic, but a retreat nonetheless. April 2013.

ink on paper, hanging scroll
73.5 by 23 cm; 29 by 9 1/8  in.
folded album: 27 by 9 cm; 10 5/8  by 3 1/2  in.
Leggi la scheda di conservazione Leggi la scheda di conservazione


Acquired directly from the artist
Private European Collection
Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong
Private Asian Collection


Hong Kong, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Meditations in Nature: New Ink, 28 March - 7 May, 2014, unpaginated

Nota a catalogo

Renowned for his paintings of stones, flowers and landscapes, Liu Dan creates works of exceptional beauty and timeless elegance. In his paintings of stones, which are always based on actual scholar rocks often in private collections, Liu Dan draws upon the legacy of Northern Song dynasty masters whose goal was to achieve objective representation of the subject matter and go beyond a 'true' representation of reality.

Known to describe rocks as the 'stem cells' of landscapes, a starting place for the infinite possibilities for development of artistic compositions, Liu Dan portrays each stone as a portrait of the form before him.  Also known as the Heavenly Sound Stone, the scholar rock depicted in the present lot was presented to Liu Dan as a gift from a friend in the early 1990s. As described in the accompanying colophon, Liu Dan admired the stone from the moment he saw it and was inspired to paint several portraits of the stone in subsequent works. This present lot of a vertical portrait of the Heavenly Sound Stone accompanied by a colophon written by the Master of the Water Pine and Stone Retreat provides the rare opportunity to document the extremely personal relationship between artist and collector, subject and painting, but more importantly between friends and connoisseurs of art.

The Artistic Legacy of Jiangsu and Beyond
Gu Weijie

The old capital of Nanjing is a dispirited city with a rich lingering ambience. I, like many people in the art circles who lack an opportunity to visit the city, harbour complex feelings toward the city that are difficult to describe.

In the history of Chinese painting, Nanjing is an important city whose contribution is impossible to disentangle. Here one can still find traces of the career of the celebrated painter Gu Kaizhi. Shizhuzhai shuhua pu (The Shizhu Studio Catalogue of Calligraphy and Painting), the great woodblock catalogue of Hu Zhengyan (ca. 1582–ca. 1672), is still in circulation here. Qingliangshan, the former residence of Gong Xian (1618–1689), the “most important of the Eight Masters of Jinling (Nanjing),” still welcomes visitors. And the works of Xu Beihong (1895–1953), Liu Haisu (1896–1994), Fu Baoshi (1904–1965), Lin Sanzhi (1898–1989), and Gao Ershi (1903–1977) are highly sought after by collectors in the art market. With its two-thousand-year history of painting, Nanjing still cultivates numerous artists, many of whom achieve prominent recognition in the arts.

Perhaps due to its rich historic legacy, or because of the lush scenery of the Jiangnan region, the artists of Nanjing exude a sense of sophistication and developed a distinctively refined-watery style in their works. This style appears not only in Chinese ink paintings, but also in oil paintings, prints, and other forms of contemporary art works. One can assert that this refined style is the common characteristic of Nanjing artists. Whether it be the paintings of literati, works of the Neo-Jinling School, paintings of the new literati, and even contemporary ink art, all the works of Nanjing artists display this distinctive style.

History has bestowed on Nanjing a heavy burden of the past with a faint aire of bright intelligence and profound refinement. To break out of what scholars politely refer to as the “Nanjing style” is no easy matter. Fortunately, in the present art works before us, other than those imitating traditional motifs, each manifests a unique style.

This uncommon artistic individuality also arises from a background specific to Nanjing. Nanjing is a tolerant city. Owing to a destructive Japanese campaign during the Second Sino-Japanese War, most long-term residents of the city are actually immigrants from other areas. This is also true of artists, many of whom come from the surrounding provinces of Shanghai, Jiangsu, Anhui, and Zhejiang, or the region north and south of the Yangtze River. For example, Dong Xinbin (Lot 41), Zhou Yiqing (Lot 57), and Jiang Hongwei (Lot 46) are from Wuxi; Yang Chunhua (Lots 42 and 43) from Shanghai; Xue Liang (Lot 55) from Jingjiang in Jiangsu. Moreover, the careers of these artists directed their artistic development in different directions. Yet at the same time, the Jiangnan tradition of painting prepared these artists with fundamental techniques that impart an innate beauty to their works. For example, Dong Xinbin studied under Qin Guliu and Liu Haisu, and Zhou Jingxin (Lot 56) and Xu Lei (Lot 50) studied under Fang Jun. But more worthy of note is that these artists studied from each other, such as Dong Xinbin and Zhu Xinjian (Lot 40), as well as Zhu Xinjian and Li Jin (Lot 54) who cultivated mutual artistic exchanges. Hence, artists graduating from the same art academy or even having the same mentors developed different styles and traits owing to their different paths of development.

Nanjing tolerance also has an effect in cultural and artistic circles. Nanjing is different from other cities in how its circles interact. Its painters, writers, and even folk artists, often meet in their daily lives. This is perhaps owing to the literati tradition of cultivating intellectuals and scholars in the city. Incidentally, among the Nanjing artists, Xu Lele (Lot 44), Zhu Xinjian, and Gao Yun were all at one time popular comic artists, and the distinguished printmaker Zhou Yiqing once illustrated many novels with his engravings.

The rare quality of Nanjing is its tolerance cultivates openly expressive artistic styles. In contrast to Shanghai, where tolerance means mutual non-interference, and to students, who simply imitate their teachers, in Nanjing its quality of tolerance needs to be carefully distinguished by artist. Even though Xu Lele, Zhou Jingxin, and Zhu Xinjian all developed their artistic skills by painting figures, their works exhibit enormous differences in form and brushwork, and even though Fang Jun and Xue Liang excel at painting landscapes, their trees maintain distinctive forms in respective landscape compositions. And just as women avoid wearing the same dress as others, so do these artists seek to preserve their individuality.

The artists of Nanjing revere and borrow from other masters adept in traditional styles and aesthetics, but as ever, the mandate is always to transform the tradition. Among the innovative Nanjing artists, there is the studied and breakaway painter Dong Xinbin, the inventive bold-figure painter Zhou Jingxin, and the genteel classicist Xu Lele. There are also the nonconformist styles of Jin Weihong (Lot 53), the whimsical images of Zhu Xinjian, the colourful compositions of Yang Chunhua, the lively depictions of Zhang Youxian (Lot 52), and the magical scenes of A Hai (Lot 51). In addition to the Nanjing ink-wash painters, there are those artists who are closely connected to Nanjing art circles such as Li Jin, who paints in vivid colours, Xue Liang, who creates imaginative landscapes, Jiang Hongwei, who paints in the style of the Song dynasty, Xu Lei, who sinuously synthesizes images of tradition and the present, Liu Dan (Lot 49), who pays homage to scholars rocks, Shen Qin (Lot 48), who envisions tranquil landscapes, Lei Miao (Lot 45), who presents deeply thoughtful scenes, and even the Korean artist Moon Bong Sun (Lot 47) who studied painting in the literati tradition in Nanjing. In summary, all of these artists contribute to the rich, luminous art scene of Nanjing.

It can be said that Nanjing’s quality of tolerance is recognized in today’s art scene. The art market bustles, but lacks a loud clamour; it hustles along beneath the guise of a quiet, cultured society. All the while artists under Nanjing’s influence continue to engage in a refined dialogue and to create unique personal expressions. 

Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art