S otheby's has consistently been at the forefront of the auction market for Zhang Daqian, showcasing both his traditional ink and brush works as well as his splashed ink and colour paintings. Over the years, numerous record-breaking sales of Zhang Daqian’s artworks have been achieved through auctions at Sotheby's:
Peach Blossom Spring (1982) was sold for HK$1.87 million, setting a new auction record for Zhang Daqian and a record for 20th century Chinese painters.
Secluded Valley (1965) was sold for HK$8.16 million, once again setting a new auction record for Zhang Daqian and a record for 20th century Chinese painters.
The Splashed Ink Vermilion Lotus Folding Screen (1975) was sold for a record-breaking HK$20.22 million.
2011 Single-Owner Auction: The Mei Yun Tang Collection Of Paintings By Chang Dai-Chien
Showcasing the close friendship between Zhang Daqian, Kao Ling-mei, and Jan Yun Bor, the single-owner auction, The Mei Yun Tang Collection Of Paintings By Chang Dai-Chien, achieved HK$680 million, selling all 25 works within one hour. This became the most valuable single-owner auction of Chinese modern paintings and calligraphy in auction history. Among the lots, Lotus and Mandarin Ducks (1947) fetched HK$191 million, setting an extraordinary new auction record for Zhang Daqian.
Peach Blossom Spring (1982) reappeared in the market, causing a sensation and sparking more than 50 minutes of competitive bidding. It was eventually for HK$270 million, once again taking the record for Zhang Daqian to new heights
Landscape after Wang Ximeng (1948) achieved a sky-high price of HK$370 million, setting a new auction record for Zhang Daqian and became the most valuable Chinese painting and calligraphy sold in the history of Sotheby's.
Zhang Daqian's two-panel splashed ink and colour on gold paper, Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen (1973) was sold for HK$250 million, securing the third-highest auction price for a work by Zhang Daqian.
During the late Northern Song dynasty under the reign of the Emperor Huizong, a talented 18-year-old Wang Ximeng took half a year to finish his blue-and-green landscape painting, A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains, which is the only surviving work by the young artist. Nearly a thousand years later, this masterpiece was eventually housed in The Palace Museum in Beijing after numerous exchanges.
Azurite and malachite provided the dominant hues of blue-and-green landscape painting. During the Tang Dynasty, the father-and-son artists Li Sixun and Li Zhaodao introduced gold into the palette, giving rise to a new style of painting, which elevated the genre of blue-and-green landscape painting to new heights. In the 1930s, Zhang Daqian embarked on his own blue-and-green landscape paintings. He invested a considerable fortune in acquiring renowned paintings by ancient masters for the purpose of imitation, and it was during the 1940s that he came into his own stylistically in this realm and achieved remarkable success.
Landscape after Wang Ximeng was created in January and February of 1948, the heyday of the traditional Chinese gongbi landscape painting, when Zhang Daqian resided in Zhaojue Temple in Chengdu. With excellent eyesight and physical strength, he dared to challenge the model work of the blue-and-green landscape painting. He painted on a piece of plain silk of four feet, thus turning it from a hand scroll to a hanging scroll. By drawing inspiration from the techniques of Dong Yuan and Ju Ran, Zhang skillfully portrayed the exquisite landscapes of Jiangnan using a level-distance composition. Instead of the grandeur of towering mountains found in Wang's original paintings, Zhang chose to depict serene rivers, gentle riverbanks, and undulating hills, creating an aura of relaxation and tranquility. The vertical composition of his works further accentuates the vastness and expansiveness of the endless mountains and rivers, spanning thousands of miles.
The style and position of the scenery in this piece are quite different from the original one, but all the scenes are depicted with fine brushwork, demonstrating the artist's excellent brushwork skills – every single feather of the flying wild geese and shore birds can be seen clearly; ripples of the river are portrayed with net patterns; the stream in the foreground is depicted with ripple patterns; and figures, grass on the hillside, pavilions and other scenes are exquisite – which is quite rare in Zhang's artistic works. The main colour of the image is malachite green, embellished with other colours like azurite blue, ocher, white powder and brilliant yellow. The horizon, outline of hills, and base of slopes are coated with powdered gold, shining, and imposing, rivaling works from the Tang dynasty. Ripples on the green river are outlined with cool and warm tones of gold, dazzling brilliantly in the golden light. This skill is rarely seen in Zhang's other works. “Boneless painting” (mogu) is embraced to depict the distant hills and mountains, whereby the malachite washes and gold specks are interspersed with rosy rouge glows tingeing the crimson sky. Such dazzling views intoxicate the viewer, as the majestic demeanour of the painting also reveals the cultivated tastes of the literati.
While similar themes appear many times in Zhang's blue-and-green landscape paintings, there is only one known work modeled after Wang Ximeng's masterpiece. It may also be the only artwork to championed the mogu technique, smelting large swathes of malachite green with gold adornments, enriched by fine detailed strokes that cover nearly half the creative surface! This remarkable masterpiece was originally created for an art exhibition held in Shanghai the same year. It serves as a testament to the artist's exceptional ability to fuse ancient traditions with modern innovations, reaching the pinnacle of his artistic prowess. During the exhibition, the painting was designated as “not for sale”, underscoring its significance to the artist. Subsequently, this artwork was acquired and cherished by Sun Zhifei, a prominent figure in Shanghai, and has remained within his family's collection. With the exception of loan exhibitions at the Shanghai Museum and the National Art Museum of China following Zhang's passing in 1983, the painting has never been publicly displayed. Today, after 40 years, this extraordinary work has reemerged in the market.
Peach Blossom Spring, housed by The Mactaggart Art Collection, and once collected by the Chai Sian Kwan Collection and the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection, is a splashed colour masterpiece created in the artist's later years, in the same period as his last masterpiece Panorama of Mount Lu housed at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both are among Zhang's most successful works.
In 1976, Zhang Daqian made a formal application to reside in Taiwan. He embarked on establishing his island paradise in Wai Shuangxi, a suburb of Taipei. While engrossed in the construction of his Moye Jingshe residence, he concurrently worked on a splashed colour scroll titled Peach Blossom Spring, which was ultimately completed in the twelfth month of the lunar year in 1982...
Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen (1973) portrays a captivating splashed colour depiction of an exuberant lotus pond on a gold screen. This very rare work by Zhang Daqian was collected by C.S. Loh and remained in the family for half a century.
Painted on a gorgeous Japanese double-folded gold screen, the work stands at six feet tall and equally wide. Amongst the swaying giant leaves and long sweeping stems are half hidden pale pink lotuses, delicate and subtle, as if hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The dynamic blend of vivid mineral colours and sumptuous ink against the rich lustre of glittering gold creates striking contrast and presents a breathtaking spectacle. It is an exceptional masterpiece that demonstrates the artist’s bold character and finest artistry.
Mist at Dawn from the MK Lau Collection was created in 1968, the year when the artist's abstract splashed ink expressions were at its pinnacle. The masterpiece was shown in many important exhibitions and is recorded in numerous books and painting albums.
On top of light ochre washes, jet-black ink and azure and malachite paints splash out across the surface, leaving behind organic forms that gradually morph into an animated landscape. The mineral pigments, much like luminous gemstones shining in the dark, radiate through the clouds that rise in rage against the mountains.
The work portrays mountains in clouds and mist at dawn, spraying blue, green, and other mineral pigments to present a strong color effect as well as heavy or light texture effects from different angles of light and refraction thanks to the characteristics of mineral pigments. In addition, multiple unpainted areas (or liubai in Chinese) are scattered across the nearly filled-up picture plane to give the viewer moments of pause, while the cracks allow the first light of morning to penetrate, a radiance that is lustrous, brilliant, and grand. Professor Feng You-heng wrote of the painting, it is “undoubtedly one of the artist’s bravest, most challenging and modern pieces of splashed-ink art” by Zhang Daqian.
The most representative work in the bird-and-flower category in the Mei Yun Tang Collection is, without any doubt, the Lotus and Mandarin Ducks painted in 1947. This painting, symbolizing a marriage made in heaven, has always been treasured by my parents. It was also considered by Professor Chang to be one of his major masterpieces, selected by the master himself for inclusion in an exhibition in San Francisco to celebrate forty years of his career as a painter. Despite the claim in the accompanying inscription that his model was Huang Quan (903?-965) of Five Dynasties, this painting is actually an innovative work. The exquisitely painted red lotus flowers with gold trimmings appear resplendent, but natural, among the dark jade leaves. The pair of colourful mandarin ducks appear content while they nestle in the shade. By any yardstick of judgement, it is truly a magnificent masterpiece.