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Chinese Paintings – Modern

How Two Students Forged a Lifelong Friendship with Chinese Ink Master Zhang Daqian

By Sotheby's

I nk master Zhang Daqian (1899–1983) is one of the best-known and most prolific Chinese artists of the 20th century, celebrated both for his detailed portraits and his splashed-ink landscapes. Beginning his career as a traditionalist, he went on to develop innovative painting methods such as pouring ink and color on paper or silk to produce random, evocative forms combining traditional Chinese brushwork and semi-abstract compositions. A gregarious spirit and an enthusiastic teacher, he established the influential Dafengtang School of Painting in Shanghai along with his brother, the artist Zhang Shanzi.

Black-and-white photographs of Tang Hung and Zhang Daqian, Fung Bi-Che and Zhang Daqian
Left: Fung Bi-Che and Zhang Daqian. Right: Tang Hung and Zhang Daqian

Among his many students, Tang Hung (1926–2018) stood apart. He had deep personal connections to the master. His father, Tang Yi (1904–1972), known as Haolan, had also been his student, as had his wife Fung Bi-Che (1916–2009).

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ZHANG DAQIAN, Bridge to Mountain Temple Shrouded in Prismatic Clouds, INK AND COLOR ON PAPER, MOUNTED FOR FRAMING. ESTIMATE $220,000–280,000.

Throughout the decades, while Tang Hung and Fung Bi-Che were actively exhibiting internationally, the husband and wife acquired works that moved them, using a discerning aesthetic eye to choose individual works with strong artistic purpose, be it a unique flourish of brushwork or an unexpected application of color.

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LEFT: LOT 519, ZHANG DAQIAN, LOTUS, INK ON PAPER, HANGING SCROLL, ESTIMATE $60,000–80,000. RIGHT: GLASSINE FUNG BI-CHE USED TO TRACE HER TEACHER’S WORK.

This highly personal collection will come to auction at Sotheby’s in The Tang Hung and Fung Bi-Che Collection of Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy (13 September, New York) and with 47 additional lots in Saturday at Sotheby's: Asian Art (15 September, New York) includes a unique selection of works that underscores the couples’ deep and lifelong relationship with this iconic artist of the modern age. Among the highlights is Invitation to Visit, a landscape that Zhang Daqian gifted Tang Hung, and in which he expressly addresses Tang Hung in the tone of both teacher and friend, inviting him to join himself in the mountains depicted therein. Likewise a selection of letters penned from Zhang Daqian to Bi-Che reveals the tenderness of their friendship, as well as her reverence for his skills.

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ZHANG DAQIAN, INVITATION TO VISIT, INK AND COLOR ON PAPER, HANGING SCROLL. ESTIMATE $200,000–300,000.

The modern master’s influence is evident in the work of both of his students. Tang Hung's paintings channel his teacher’s masterful effects with color — with vividly hued works adorned by calligraphy in the slender gold script, creating a richly ornamented effect. Fung Bi-Che’s paintings meanwhile, fully display the legacy of Zhang Daqian, yet are rendered with a more delicate sense of beauty, overflowing with light.

Over the years the couple visited Zhang Daqian in Carmel, California, where he had moved with his family. There the teacher and his two students enjoyed long walks at the natural preserve at Point Lobos admiring the peculiar shapes of the pine trees and observing the natural world with an unflinching curiosity.

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FUNG BI-CHE AND ZHANG DAQIAN IN CALIFORNIA.

After Zhang Daqian passed away, they maintained close relationships with his widow, Xu Wenbo, and third son, Zhang Baoluo. In this way, their collection is a testament to the generous spirit and creative energy of Zhang Daqian as well as to this couple’s heartfelt pursuit of beauty and enduring belief in the transcendent nature of art.

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Works in the collection with titleships in Slender-Gold Script by Tang Hung.

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