Gibbons at Play grants the rare opportunity to acquire a work by Chen Wen Hsi consisting of the artist’s most iconic subject. High up above the moon, by the edge of a cliff, six stately gibbons of varying gradations frolic along a branch of a tall treetop. As they blithely interact with one another, their long limbs mimic the extended forms of the twigs above them. Due to their tendency to glide through the branches of towering canopies, wild gibbons are elusive beings that are difficult to catch a glimpse of. The present lot, however, portrays an ephemeral moment of these dignified creatures frozen in time.
The painting exemplifies Wen Hsi’s penchant for detail, a precision he learned from mastering traditional Chinese ink brushwork prior to moving to Singapore. It is evident that he premeditated the composition of this vertical work, which emphasizes the soaring height of the space in which the sanguine creatures play. The meticulous style of the work particularly reveals influences from the gongbi ink painting technique, which employs highly detailed brushstrokes in order to render the composition with careful verisimilitude.
The young artist yearned to capture the true essence of the animal and the synchronized effects of their movement and mentality. This salient work was undoubtedly inspired by the gibbons featured in a striking painting by Southern Song painter Muxi, now in the Daitokuji collection in Kyoto, Japan. Convinced that Muxi had developed his skill from his close observation of the faunae, the determined Wen Hsi began his collection of gibbons in the late 1940s. Awestruck upon viewing this 13th century image, he desired to emulate his ancient mentor and commenced a lifelong pursuit of depicting these noble, human-like animals in an impeccable manner.
[i] Chen Wen Hsi, Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2006, p. 65
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