Lot 4
  • 4

Ding Yanyong

3,800,000 - 5,000,000 HKD
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  • Ding Yanyong
  • Portrait of a Lady; Still Life with Sculpture (double sided)
  • oil on board
signed Y.Y. TING and dated 1/1, 67; signed Y.Y.TING and dated 14/11, 65 on the reverse


Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 2 May, 1991, lot 97
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


Taipei, National Museum of History, Aesthetic Images of Ding Yanyong’s Paintings, 5 August – 21 September 2003, p. 151


This work is in good condition. Front: There is evidence of slight paint losses across the surface of the upper part of the work, predominately in an area in the center 5 cm from the top edge and along the bottom edge at the center. There is evidence of flaking paints along the bottom edge and artist's pinholes at the upper left and bottom right corners of the painting. There is no evidence of restoration under UV. Back: There is evidence of slight paint losses at the upper right corner of the work. There are artist pinholes at the upper right and lower left corners. There is no evidence of restoration under UV.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Ding Yanyong 60s Masterpiece
Portrait of a Lady and Still Life with Sculpture

The use of two sides is an important feature of Ding Yanyong’s oil paintings. As the scholar Gao Meiqing said, Ding Yanyong often paints repeatedly on the same wooden board, or uses the back. This shows his focus on the process of exploration and creation. Double-sided painting is also a response to double-sided seal engraving and side cutting, which Ding Yanyong was very experienced at. It is like a traditional two-sided fan. The painting included in this evening auction is Portrait of a Lady, which represents Ding Yanyong’s typical portrait style. On the back of the painting, Still Life with Sculpture represents his commitment to developing primitivism. It provides viewers with much to appreciate.

Integrating Ink Lines with Fauvist Colours

Simplification has always been Ding Yanyong’s norm, in creating works that combine both Eastern and Western elements and use various materials. He focused on portraits. As Gao Meiqing said, “Ding worked on portraits and nudes persistently for several decades. The influence of Western modernism is quite apparent in his works, but he still injected his strong personal style and the spirit of Chinese art. Ding often asked his students to be models, not aiming at recording their appearances, but to capture their charm through simple modelling and flowing sketches.Portrait of a Lady depicts a noble woman in a sleeveless Western dress with white gauntlet gloves. Ding didn’t focus on the luxurious clothes and accessories but the body language of the subject. The woman is facing the viewer, with her hands jointed elegantly in front of her. Her face is turned slightly to the right with her eyes looking at the viewer. She is engaging the viewer directly and is herself a graceful elegance. Ding used simple ink lines to outline the subject, combined with bright pure orange, lead white and chestnut yellow. Her long neck, tall nose and handsome eyebrows are all strengthened using straight lines. In this way, although the painting is simplified, it still maintains its accuracy and compactness.Portrait of a Lady by Ding Yanyong is comparable to Portrait of L. Delectorskaya by Henri Matisse. Both portraits pursue simplicity and purity in their characters and colours. Critic Rita Wong has analysed Ding Yanyong’s characters, “judging from the simple subject and bold innovative colours, the influence of fauvism is very clear. The background mainly consists of a quick sweep of the brush, which creates a mottled but powerful effect. It is in strong contrast with the lively and vivid subjects. So as with Matisse, Ding must restrain the subject using dark black outlines. All of Ding’s works, whether oil or ink paintings, show a neglectful or indifferent attitude towards accurate sketching. What he really wants to capture is the spirit or nature of subjects. ” Matisse’s early paintings focused on complicated and rich colours and fullness of composition. In his later years his work became simpler. Ding Yanyong admired Matisse and once said that his form had a simplified purity. In just a few strokes, he was able to enlighten us about the endless significance of the mankind. This was also Ding’s pursuit, but a unique feature of Ding’s work was to use the lines and ink of Chinese painting in Western painting. In Portrait of a Lady, Eastern and Western aesthetics combined.

Eastern Interpretation of Primitivism

In contrast to Portrait of a Lady, Still Life with Sculpture presents what Ding Yanyong learnt about seal cutting and primitive art. Apart from Fauvism, Primitivism was another area of Western modern art that enlightened him. Ding Yanyong strove for simplification in his works. The purpose was to bring out their most direct and true attraction. Rita Wong once analysed his work “as with the previous generation of Western artists who came before him, Ding thinks it is very dangerous for art to become superficial. However, if too many rational thoughts are attached, it would easily lose its most valuable force – simple and direct emotional expression. Ding thought that because of its simplicity, primitive art or Art brut could best express complicated human emotions.”

Many Chinese first-generation oil painters dabbled into Fauvism, but Ding Yanyong was the first one to pay attention to and was successful with painting in Primitivism. The understanding of primitivism in the West basically meant seeking for enlightenment to bring into Europe from the outside world, for example, Africa for Pablo Picasso and Tahiti for Paul Gauguin. After Ding Yanyong moved to Hong Kong, he became fascinated by Taiwanese aboriginal carvings. They were simple and rough, and full of the power of nature. This was similar to the African wood carvings that Picasso was fond of. This is what is shown in Still Life with Sculpture. Ding moved away from the rich and bright colours of fauvism in this work. The main colour in the wood carving is red-brown, with an earthy feel. To adjust the brightness, he blended in the moist, highly saturated colours that Picasso used in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which successfully attracts the viewer’s attention.

Western artists only explored Primitivism abroad; Ding Yanyong also returned to the origin of ancient Chinese culture, in order to draw ideas from art heritage. Oracle bone inscriptions and seal cutting were his sources. He once said, “the cuttings are just like the lines on a painting. They’re eternally powerful with endless substance and liveliness. No other ancient artifacts can compare to them.” Ding’s carvings are just as impressive as his oil and ink paintings. The three together are the “one source and three veins” integrating and influencing each other in his work. In the background of Still Life with Sculpture, the square frame looks like a mirror with a mark on it or a painting, however, it is in fact Ding Yanyong’s alias, Ding Hu. When Ding Yanyong lived in Hong Kong, he called himself “Ding Hu”. “Hu” means tiger, which is his sign of the Chinese zodiac. Many of the seals he carved have a tiger face on them. The little triangle in the left bottom corner of the square is his surname Ding. The square is a big seal in the background of a painting. It is very ingenious. Ding Yanyong’s use of ancient characters in his painting shows how he combined Eastern and Western art. As well as opening up traditional Chinese ink painting and calligraphy as forms of expression, it also meant his work could become modern and global. Just as Picasso said, “drawing is no kidding. It is something very grave and very mysterious that a simple line could represent a living being.” The simpler the carved lines are, the more powerful they are. Traditional ink art emphasises the temperament of the literati and demonstrates a different kind of artistic charm. In Still Life with Sculpture, Ding Yanyong successfully interpreted in modern terms the ancient and primitive Chinese culture.