Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Paintings Spring Sale on 10 July will present over 200 modern Chinese paintings and calligraphy. The sale is distinguished by a remarkable collection of works by Wu Guanzhong executed at the peak of his artistic career from the late 1970s to early 1990s, led by Heavenly Lake in Mount Changbai, a six-foot monumental landscape painting, and Heavenly Lake in Xinjiang, a vibrantly coloured sketch. Also featured are Mighty Waterfall in Mountains, a semi-abstract work by Fu Baoshi previously kept in a private French collection, and an exceptional painting album created by Qi Baishi in his eighties, alongside a number of specially curated thematic sections covering works from different periods.
Rescheduled from Spring to Summer, this season’s Fine Chinese Paintings auction will present a series of masterpieces by Wu Guanzhong executed at the peak of his artistic career. Contrasting in style, the two major highlights – Heavenly Lake in Mount Changhai and Heavenly Lake in Xinjiang – demonstrate Wu’s distinctive interpretation of the two Heavenly Lakes in China and attest to the artist’s bold and innovative spirit. Continuing our past successes, we are pleased to curate several thematic sections within the sale, which offer a fresh perspective on the appreciation of traditional Chinese paintings.
Wu Guanzhong visited Changbai Mountain in July 1985 and was mesmerized by the clear and large blue surface of the volcanic crater lake. A year later, he painted this monumental work, but instead of portraying the dull earth tones of the volcanic rocks, he situated the large teal-green lake at the center, and captured it with thick strokes of blue. He then transformed the surrounding mountain range into a wintery snowscape, with the use of the texture of the Xuan paper to portray the smooth and clean snowy landscape. The stark contrast sets a scene of perfect tranquility and ambiance that reflects his own idealistic version of the Heavenly Lake. Within the known works of Wu Guanzhong, this is a rare portrayal of the scenery of Northeastern China and his only panoramic depiction of Mount Changbai.
This painting is one of the 33 sketches created by Wu Guanzhong during his visit to Xinjiang in the summer of 1981. Hidden in a pine forest, Xinjiang’s heavenly lake is embraced by snowy hills, such enthralling beauty became one of Wu’s favourite subjects, appearing four times in his sketchbook. Wu’s composition of the Heavenly Lake comes alive as vivid blues, purples and greens capture the lushness of surrounding pine forests amid snowy mountains. The lavish use of bright, vibrant colours to evoke the same intensity of his vision is rare in his sketches. Thus, the artist selected this work to be exhibited in his first large-scale travelling exhibition in western countries in 1989.
The painting depicts an awe-inspiring scenery, where a majestic waterfall cascades down the towering mountains to flow through the giant rocks. The hills, valleys, shrubs and trees merge amidst the hazy gloom, making it difficult to spot the two scholars seemingly conversing with each other on the lower right sector. Executed between 1939 and 1946 at the pinnacle of the artist’s career, Fu Baoshi employed an innovative composition, with his gestural yet meticulous brushworks to abstractly convey a landscape that radiates with vibrant energy.
This album of Various Subjects was executed in 1950, a satisfying year for the artist as the government refurbished his house and he began to serve at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and subsequently the Central Research Institute of Culture and History. Works created this year often embody his joy in the act of creation, and this album encapsulates a sense of exuberance with various animals and fruits.
This painting was executed in 1984 when Cheng Shifa served as the Head of Shanghai Chinese Painting Academy. Bridging tradition and modernity, his works portray the daily life of people in early modern China. This is a rare painting of substantial size that depicts a scene where a peasant, an intellect, a worker and children worship the ancestors together. Every detail of this work is emblematic of the social climate at that time, which advocates all social classes to come together in contribution to the country’s development at the beginning of China’s reform.
Literati gathering is celebrated throughout Chinese history with rich historical allusions. The scene as shown in Pu Jin’s work depicts one of the most famous gatherings, where renowned aristocrats met in the Western Garden of Wang Shen, a prince consort. This gathering is reimagined in different forms of art by notable painters and scholars over centuries. Pu Jin followed the composition of Song Dynasty painter, Ma Yuan (attribute, from Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), while adapting the vivid colour palette of Mi Fu’s version. By combining both, Pu Jin created a graceful rendition of the popular scholarly theme.