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Hong Kong Autumn Auctions

Techniques Revealed - The Secrets behind Zhang Daqian, from the Master Himself

By Sotheby's
The remarkable artistic career of one of the most popular and influential Chinese artists of the 20th century, Zhang Daqian , spanned over six decades from the early 1920s to 1980s. He mastered vast subject matters in a various of styles, from elaborate detail fine lines, to the expressive and abstract splashed ink. In the artist’s own words, the techniques and secrets behind his mastery will be revealed to viewers to understand his paintings as never before.

Of Hair and Beards


SELF PORTRAIT WITH A TIBETAN MASTIFF.jpg
ZHANG DAQIAN, SELF PORTRAIT WITH A TIBETAN MASTIFF . ESTIMATE UPON REQUEST.  
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(DETAIL) ZHANG DAQIAN, SELF PORTRAIT WITH A TIBETAN MASTIFF . ESTIMATE UPON REQUEST.

The hair and beards, if not painted properly, may look like a cluster of water-soaked black cotton wool stuck to a reluctant head. The old masters of the T’ang and Sung Dynasties are most adept in the art of painting hair and beards. Their technique is to execute a dozen odd fine strokes with a thin brush and condensed ink at suitable places, according to the shape of the face, then to wash them over with diluted ink two or three times. That gives the hair and beards a pliant and lustrous appearance, as though each individual one is traceable to its root, and naturally they look graceful and lovely.
─ Zhang Daqian
MAN ON HORSEBACK AFTER LI ZANHUA.jpg
Zhang Daqian, Man on Horseback after Li Zanhua , 1953. Estimate 12,800,000–16,000,000.
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(detail) Zhang Daqian, Man on Horseback after Li Zanhua , 1953. Estimate 12,800,000–16,000,000.

Of Human Figures

In portraits, the most important thing is the spirit. Whereas form and attitude indicate the body, the spirit reveals the inner self. According to the traditional technique of Chinese portrait painting, the registering of emotion on the face should be subtle and reserved so that it may inspire sympathy in the heart of the beholder.
─ Zhang Daqian
Zhang Daqian, Portrait of Guanyin from Dunhuang Fresco.jpg
Zhang Daqian, Portrait of Guanyin from Dunhuang Fresco . Estimate HK$12,000,000–18,000,000.  

PORTRAIT-OF-GUANYIN-FROM-DUNHUANG-FRESCO.jpg
(Detail) Zhang Daqian, Portrait of Guanyin from Dunhuang Fresco . Estimate HK$12,000,000–18,000,000.

Of Fish

The secret of painting fish lies in the painter’s ability to express the fishy gladness and freedom of motion in water. If the fish should appear to be out of water, so to speak, that would be tantamount to divorcing it from its natural instinct. …… In a fish picture, sometimes it is necessary to enliven the beauty of its composition and break its monotony with rocks and plants which, however, should be painted in ink monotone, instead of colour, in order to achieve the effect of plain refinement.
─ Zhang Daqian
Frolicking Fish in Lotus Pond.jpg
Zhang Daqian, FROLICKING FISH IN LOTUS POND . Estimate HK$2,400,000–3,000,000.
 

Of Landscape

Rhythmic vitality is essential to landscape painting and its absence will exclude the picture from the true connoisseur’s appreciation. It is not enough merely to distinguish between the principal and the subordinate parts, the express and the implied, the foreground and the background, and the near and the distant. The secret lies in the inspired dynamic application of the brush, pigment and water….
─ Zhang Daqian
FISHING IN THE AUTUMN RIVER.jpg
Zhang Daqian, FISHING IN THE AUTUMN RIVER . Estimate HK$1,200,000–1,500,000.
 

On Copying the Old Masters

The importance of copying the old masters, as a step towards the mastery of the technique of painting, can hardly be exaggerated. The painter must can fuse the technique of the old masters together with his own genius and attain the artistic perfection of being able to give full expression to the idealistic state of his mind.
─ Zhang Daqian
EMPTY VALLEY AND CLOUDY PEAKS.jpg
Zhang Daqian, EMPTY VALLEY AND CLOUDY PEAKS . Estimate HK$30,000,000–35,000,000.

Of Flowers and Plants

It is advisable for the artist to plant flowers in his garden and keep some in vases in order that he may have the advantage of living with them and observing them at close range. Such everyday intimacy will enable him to give full expression to the infinite variety of the flower’s lovely presence and attitude, as well as its dynamic urge to live and grow.
─ Zhang Daqian
PEONY.jpg
Zhang Daqian, PEONY . Estimate HK$450,000–600,000.  
Zhang Daqian, RED LOTUS.jpg
Zhang Daqian, RED LOTUS . Estimate HK$ 450,000–600,000.  

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