Chinese Works of Art

Discoveries: Chinese Master Highlights the Beauty of Nature

By Mark Stephen

T hese two works by highly sought-after Chinese artist Qi Baishi were bought by the consignor’s father at the artist’s house in the 1950s, and consigned via Sotheby’s online request an estimate service. They were sold at auction for more than €210,000.

Qi Baishi was a highly regarded Chinese artist and is now one of the most sought-after names in twentieth century Chinese art. From a humble background, Baishi became a carpenter at fourteen, and it was largely through his own efforts that he became adept at the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal-carving. Influenced by Ming and Qing art, from the age of eighteen he painted and studied with various artists but it was only in his forties that Qi achieved fame after studying under Wu Changshuo at the Shanghai school. He later settled down in Beijing and developed his genre to concentrate on the smaller things in life, concentrating on botany, insects, frogs and shrimps, meticulously observed but painted in a fresh and spontaneous manner. In his work there is no excess of decoration and a simplicity which gives his work a contemporary appeal. Qi Baishi himself theorized that “paintings must be something between likeness and unlikeness.”

These two paintings, which featured in the Arts D’Asie sale in Paris on 12 December 2017, are typical of the developed mature style of his later years, Qi’s love of nature and botany are evident in the precision of his brushwork. The dancing dragonfly is incredibly real and well observed. The paintings were sold by the son of an Italian scientist and doctor who travelled as part of an Italian delegation to China in 1955.  Accompanied by Italian writers and artists, the doctor, together with an artist friend Ernesto Treccani, visited Qi Baishi at his house. Entranced by the elderly artist with his beard tied with ribbon in the traditional way, he made various purchases directly from the artist.

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