Lot 1001
  • 1001

Guan Liang

1,600,000 - 2,600,000 HKD
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  • Guan Liang
  • Stralsund, Germany
  • signed in Chinese; titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
executed in 1957


Important Private Asian Collection
Christie's, Hong Kong, 24 May, 2009, lot 522
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Taipei, Lin & Keng Gallery, Guan Liang: 100 Years Retrospective Exhibition, 19 April - 14 May 2000, p. 20
Beijing, Lin & Keng Gallery, Grand Opening Beijing, 21 April - 21 May 2006


New Arts, Shanghai People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Shanghai, 1981, December Issue
Guan Liang, Ke Wenhui, ed., Heibei Education Press, Shijiazhuang, 2003, p. 115
Lin & Keng Gallery — New Oriental Beauty of Cultural Independence, Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Taipei, 2007, p. 59


This work is in overall good condition. Under UV examination, there are pinpoint touch-ups across the surface, predominantly in the top right, the center along the left edge, and on the tree.
"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

"To help us learn about Germany, the East German authorities provided a car, a driver, and an interpreter. The four of us drove around the land surrounding the meandering Elbe River. Through the windows we saw lush fields of alternating greens and yellows. Interspersed between the pastures for raising cattle there were dense little forests, verdant and flourishing. In the distance, little farmhouses perched on steep slopes or at the feet of mountains. The rooftops were always brown, orange, or red, which made the green and yellow fields appear yet more vivid and beautiful.

As I fixed on the richly colourful fields, Beethoven's 'Pastoral Symphony' sprang into my mind. The rustic tranquillity, the intoxicating fresh air, the unique spirit of the countryside, all of it made a deep impression on us, as did the simple and dignified architecture of edifice, such as the Museum and the Stralsund Church. We sighed with admiration, and our creative energies were fuelled."

Guan Liang, The Memoirs of Guan Liang: East Germany Travelogue

The 1950s: An Arts Dialog between China and Germany

Guan Liang Stralsund, Germany

The tide of Chinese artists studying in Japan began in the late Qing dynasty with the Hundred Days of Reform (1898). The Guangxu Emperor and the reformers Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao sought to learn from Japan's Meiji Restoration, and the two countries embarked on a period of close cultural exchange. Young Chinese artists, including pioneers such as Li Shutong, Guan Liang, and Ding Yanyong, studied Western modern art in Tokyo. Guan was a native of Panyu, Guangdong. In 1917 he enrolled at the Kawabata Painting School in Tokyo, where one of his teachers was Fujishima Takeji, who had studied in Italy and France; later, when he joined the Pacific Western Painting Society, the artist studied under Nakamura Fusetsu, who had also returned from France. Guan graduated from the Pacific Arts School in 1923. He enlisted with the Nationalist forces during the Northern Expedition of 1926-27; then, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, he joined the temporary sites of the National School of Art in Kunming and Chongqing. After the war, he followed the art school back to Hangzhou and eventually became an instructor at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts.  At first, Guan worked primarily in oils, but he was also skilled in ink wash, watercolour, and sketching. His works, which combine Western Modernism with the freehand spirit of traditional Chinese painting, are filled with childlike wonder. Stralsund, Germany (Lot 1001 ), one of his few surviving oil paintings, is an extremely rare specimen from his series of German landscapes.

International Diplomacy Facilitates Valuable Exchange

Guan Liang painted Stralsund, Germany in 1957, the year that the People's Republic of China and the German Democratic Republic ("East Germany") signed the Sino-German Cultural Exchange Agreement. The agreement included the hosting of a large-scale Chinese cultural exhibition in East Germany; Guan Liang and Li Keran were included in the Chinese delegation and attended the opening ceremony in East Berlin. In addition to being a national honour for the artists, the trip was a rare opportunity to travel abroad, and Guan's feelings of excitement are evident in the "East Germany Travelogue" chapter of his memoirs, published in 1984.

Guan Liang and Li Keran received a ceremonious welcome in Berlin, and their exhibition at the Berlin Arts Institute was met with great enthusiasm. After the exhibition, Leipzig's Publishing House printed a German-language catalogue of Guan's Peking Opera portraits. It was the 692th book in their series on World Art – a previous one had featured Chinese artist Qi Baishi. Guan's trip to Germany established an arts dialog between China and Germany in the 1950s. The artist's delight was evident in the lively hues of Stralsund, Germany, which he painted during an officially organized artists' tour of East Germany.

An Ode to Germany in Cherry Red and Emerald Green

The church in this painting – properly called Marienkirche or St. Mary's Church – is located in the northern coastal city of Stralsund. Built in 1298, it was the world's tallest building between 1549 and 1647 at 151 metres. In 1708, the main building was rebuilt with a Baroque-style dome, a state which has been preserved. Faced with this ancient bastion of German civilization, Guan Liang drew on his deep-rooted foundation in Western art. The painting's composition accords with the Divine Ratio: the church's main steeple is perfectly positioned at 0.618 along the horizontal axis, lending a stable yet dynamic aspect to the picture plane. Moreover, Guan had learned to exploit the power and emotion of colour during his early exposure to Impressionism and Fauvism in Japan. Comparing Stralsund, Germany with the real-life scenery it portrays, it is easy to see that the actual church is sedate and severe: brick-red and maroon. In contrast, Guan's painting features brisker hues of tangerine and garnet, reflecting the artist's high spirits at the time. Guan used the scenery before him to express the jubilation in his heart.

As an emissary from China, the artist did not forget to express his own cultural roots. First of all, he outlined the contours of the scenery with the black ink he was accustomed to using in traditional Chinese paintings. Additionally, he placed his signature in a distinctively Chinese position. Western painters usually sign the lower-right corners of their works, but Guan's signature is located in the upper-left corner of the canvas, in the sky. This position more closely follows the Chinese tradition, in which the signature is integrated into the painting and serves to balance the composition.