"I come from the East China. I am making a living in the West America. With an Eastern mind: peace, freedom, harmony, tranquility, joy, humility...I paint. Heaven, Earth, creativity grows. Time, life, inspiration flows. Look, feel I reflect. Subjectively, objectively. Form, formless, I myself, no-self...I paint.”
Chen Chi, 1980

Installation view of Flying Geese at the Museum of Outdoor Arts, Englewood, Colorado. Image courtesy of the Museum of Outdoor Arts, Englewood, Colorado

In the first half of the 20th century, Shanghai drew many of the young elites from all over China. As new concepts from Western art were finding their way into the country, they studied these ideas assiduously to understand the parallels whilst also preserving the differences. These efforts would eventually establish the basic framework of 20th century Chinese art scene and cement the prominence of the “Shanghai School” in modern art. Bold and innovative, many of these artists took inspiration from Western art and revolutionized traditional practices. Lin Fengmian and Liu Haisu were among these pioneering artists who travelled to France, whilst Guan Liang was the most renowned out of those who travelled to Japan. Bound for America, Chen Chi was a standout. All of these Chinese artists established themselves at the forefront of Western fine art, breaking new ground even as they retained their cultural roots, opening a window that belonged to a singular generation that would connect China to the Western world. The 10-metre wide watercolour work Flying Geese (Lot 1052) presented in the upcoming Sotheby’s spring sale is a representative masterpiece by Chen Chi. Its provenance is extraordinary; first in the collection of American real estate tycoon John W. Madden, Jr. in the U.S., then in the Museum of Outdoor Arts under Madden’s family until now. It was also exhibited by The Madden Museum of Art during the time. Its appearance in the upcoming sale is its first time in auction, bearing witness to Chen’s pioneering achievement of taking traditional Chinese painting and Eastern ink painting approaches into the domain of modern art.

Born in 1912 in Wuxi, Chen Chi studied traditional Chinese painting from a young age and began studying Western fine art when he moved to Shanghai in the 1920s. In 1940, his first solo watercolours exhibition was held, before he took up a teaching position in the school of architecture at St. John’s University. In 1947, Chen was invited by the World Student Relief organization to travel to the U.S. for a cultural exchange trip and embarked on his artistic journey. He enjoyed great success on the North American art scene, earning numerous accolades. In 1954, he was named an Associate National Academician by National Academy of Design, New York, before being selected as a National Academician in 1964. In 1955, he was awarded a special prize by the American Watercolor Society, then in 1956 served on the Board of Directors of the Society. In 1976, he was awarded the Society’s Bicentennial Gold Medal. His works were in the collections of major art museums – including, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Houston Museum of Fine Art, The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, The Portland Museum, The Phoenix Art Museum, and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Chen’s paintings were also keenly sought after by private collectors, notably former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, who once asked Chen for his work Old Metropolitan Opera House in order for it to be displayed in the U.S. Liaison Office in China. Other important collectors of Chen’s works include the Ford Motor Company, 4As advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Co., and Time Inc.

In 1972, Chen Chi returned to Wuxi, and the landscape instilled fresh energy into his artistic creations. Upon returning to U.S., Chen painted a large number of watercolours with deep feelings for his homeland in mind. Flying Geese was among the most representative. In the painting scroll, the tangible and the abstract are interwoven in amber and milky colours to form a vast river in which vortexes swirl and buffet. A golden sheen emerges, creating a magnificent view of boundless depth and breadth. In the picture, geese nimbly fly in groups of two and three, from far to near. Like a silver screen, the view unveils to express the most heartfelt longing of the artist’s homeland.

In 2000, Chen Chi was invited to participate in the first World Cultural Summit jointly organised by then-President of France Jacques Chirac and UNESCO. In the same year, he also held a retrospective at the Palace of Versailles and became the first living Chinese artist to have held at exhibition at the palace. For Chen Chi, it was not only a rare honour but also a symbolic moment for his commitment to the cultural exchange between East and West. Sotheby’s is honoured to present his outstanding work Flying Geese, and sincerely invites all collectors to pay tribute to the late artist’s great passion for nature and life as well as his profound artistic achievements.


《流水飛鶴》於科羅拉多州恩格伍德戶外藝術博物館展出現場。 Image courtesy of the Museum of Outdoor Arts, Englewood, Colorado


縱觀程及的藝術人生,他即是一位享譽世界的水彩藝術大師,也是中西文化交流的東方巨擘。他1912年生於江蘇無錫,自幼從師陳舊村先生學習國畫,二〇年代移居上海開始研習西畫,在畫壇嶄露頭角,1940年在上海舉辦首次個人水彩畫展,並出版《程及水彩畫集》,後執教於上海聖約翰大學建築系。1947年程及應世界學生救濟會的邀請赴美進行文化交流,從此展開長逾半世紀的旅美生涯,在中國藝術家赴美之浩蕩歷程中,上承十九與二十世紀之交的李鐵夫與朱沅芷,下啟十九世紀八〇年代的李華弌和陳逸飛。藝術家憑藉其水彩作品中融匯東西視野之強烈個性,贏得熱烈迴響,在北美畫壇之發展如魚得水,個展和獲獎記錄舉不勝數: 1954年藝術家入選紐約國立設計院副院士、1964年正式當選院士;1955年榮獲美國水彩協會年度水彩畫特別獎;1956年擔任全美水彩學會董事;1962年為世界冬季奧林匹克運動會加州滑雪大賽繪製特輯;1976年再次榮獲美國水彩協會授予的200週年金獎之殊榮。他的作品被美國眾多美術館、大學等大型公立機構收藏,包括:大都會藝術博物館、休士頓美術館、達拉斯藝術博物館、波特蘭美術館、鳳凰城美術館及賓夕法尼亞美術學院等。同時,美國私人收藏界對於程及的藝術同樣青睞,美國前總統喬治·H·W·布什即對程及作品鍾愛有加,他在1974年10月至1975年12月任職美國駐中國聯絡處主任期間,曾向藝術家借展其1958年創作之《大都會劇院》,掛在北京聯絡處直至離任;另外包括福特汽車公司、國際4As廣告公司智威汤逊及時代出版公司在內的企業機構亦是程及的重要藏家。


為回饋故鄉養育之情,程及在1998年捐贈37幅水彩畫給上海交通大學,建立「程及美術館」,由時任中國國家主席江澤民親自提名,時任美國總統克林頓亦親臨博物館剪彩和畫展開幕,以表祝賀;2004年,家鄉無錫建立第二座「程及美術館」, 程及主動捐贈84幅水彩佳作,進一步奠定對於其藝術發展的研究基礎。