Lot 24
  • 24

Mao Yan

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 RMB
bidding is closed


  • Mao Yan
  • Oil Painting Studio 2
  • oil on canvas
signed in Pinyin and dated 89.11; signed and titled in Chinese on the reverse, framed

Catalogue Note

A Sensitive Prodigy
Mao Yan

Born in 1968 in Xiangtan, Hunan Province, Mao Yan began learning to paint from his father at a young age. As a teenager he had already mastered the techniques of oil painting and was known locally as a prodigy. In 1987, he entered the Second Studio of the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where his classmates included other art-world luminaries like Liu Xiaodong, Fang Lijun, and Zhao Bandi. At CAFA, Mao Yan distinguished himself with his virtuosity and sensitivity, and earned the acclaim of “legendary virtuoso.” In 1989, his Female Fisher earned Third Prize at the 1988 exhibition of outstanding student works at CAFA. His Female Nude was a highlight at the graduation exhibition in the next year. In 1992, at the age of 24, Mao Yan won the Academic Prize at the 1990 Biennale of Art in Guangzhou and garnered widespread acclaim. Since then, his works have appeared frequently in various major exhibitions on oil painting. At 28, he was already on the Executive Committee of China Oil Painting Society. The critic Li Xianting has commented that “Mao Yan’s works can hold their own against the masterpieces in any European museum.”

Mao Yan was one of the first Chinese painters to incorporate the stylistic elements of Western Expressionism. An heir to the Western portraiture tradition, he is also deeply influenced by the Austrian painter Egon Schiele. Mao Yan is particularly interested in representing psychology and has created a unique kind of “psychological self-portraiture.” Chinese intellectuals experienced a loss of faith in 1989. As the most sensitive chronicler of that period, Mao Yan captured the anxieties of his subjects. Painted in November, 1989, Oil Painting Studio 2 (Lot 24) inaugurated this period of psychological representation. Superficially a typical live portrait, it suggests the anxiety and mental disturbance of a young woman through the rigidity and harsh contours of her face. Her slightly downturned mouth and sideward-gazing, deep-set eyes convey a sense of uncertainty and loss. Her mismatched haircut is unsettling, and her awkward pose creates a set of disconcerting diagonals. Even the placement of her hands and the folds of her clothing are rigid and unnatural. Her predicament is emphasised by the dull copper and greenish grey tones that surround her.

Li Xiaoting writes, “The most remarkable aspect of Mao Yan’s works is his unique brushwork, particularly the chiaroscuro he uses on faces, which conveys anxiety and tension as if every gesture touched a nerve.”1 Mao Yan’s portraits are ultimately his own psychological self-representations, but they sensitively reflect the anxiety, solitude, and spiritual melancholy of our age.

1 Fu Xinsheng, Xingshen yu bimo (Form and Ink), 2008.