Lot 1011
  • 1011

Yuan Yunfu

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 HKD
3,440,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Yuan Yunfu
  • Jiangnan Waterscape (diptych)
  • signed in Chinese
  • oil on board
  • L: 100 by 100 cm.;   39 3/8  by 39 3/8  in. 
    R: 100 by 100 cm.;   39 3/8  by 39 3/8  in. 
executed in 1981


Important Private Asian Collection


Paris, Société des Artistes Français, Salon de printemps, 1983


Yuan Yunfu Paintings & Drawings, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 1983, pp. 34 - 35
Yuan Jia, ed., Drawings of Yuan Yunfu, Zhonghua Book Company, Beijing, 2012, p. 27

Catalogue Note

The imagination exists outside of objective reality. It is the refined essence of the process of association; and imagination with form is Romanticism, objectified. Art Deco painting relies on exactly the wings of this type of imagination for its rich vitality, edifying and delighting the viewer.

Yuan Yunfu, On Form

A Tower of Strength of Chinese Modern Art

The Elegant Magnanimity of Yuan Yunfu’s Jiangnan Waterscape

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, contemporary art was ushered into a new era. In that year, Yuan Yunfu was admitted to the Hangzhou School of Fine Art (now the China Academy of Art), and later pursued further studies at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The artist then held consecutive educational posts at various institutions, including serving as an instructor at the Central Academy of Art and Design, as Chair of Tsinghua University’s Graduate Department of Art Deco, and as Director of the China National Academy of Painting’s Public Art Institute. Yuan was not only a multi-faceted expert in the creation of art, he was also a distinguished theorist, educator, and implementer. Jiangnan Waterscape (Lot 1011) is one of the few rare large-scale oil paintings that the artist completed. It was selected as China’s submission to the Salon in Paris in 1983, and was also chosen to be the blueprint for the design of Chinese treasury securities in 1991. For the artist himself, for his country, and for the communication and exchange between China and other countries, this painting is of great significance.

Central Academy of Craft Art: The Northern Cradle of Modernism

Following 1949, China was dominated by a wave of Socialist Realism, a trend that seriously challenged Modernism, which had thrived on Chinese soil since it arrived in the 1920s. In 1956, then-Premier Zhou Enlai initiated the establishment of the Central Academy of Craft Art, belonging under the country’s Department of Light Industry. Because the academy was developed to correspond with the nation’s economic development, it enjoyed relatively greater freedom from ideological constraints. In the three decades starting with the 1950s until the Cultural Revolution, the pulse of Chinese Modernism gained renewed momentum and continuation.

Yuan’s own education began with the instruction of the great masters, and he later carried on the torch of education, teaching at the Central Academy of Craft Art in 1956. When the artist was sent to the countryside for re-education during the Cultural Revolution, his passion for art did not dwindle. Along with fellow artist Wu Guanzhong, he utilized the simple and crude materials at hand to continue creating art. His influence nurtured the rise of a group of younger artists, who called themselves the Same Generation Oil Painters, which included artists Wang Huaiqing and Huang Guanyu, leading to the development of the 85 New Wave Movement. Throughout his career, Yuan insisted on the concept of a “Macro Art”, emphasizing comprehensiveness in art education and promoting the importance of applied art and art deco. At the same time, the artist was engaging in the study and creation of large-scale murals. In 2013, Ten Thousand Miles of Yangtze River, a painting Yuan completed in collaboration with Yuan Jia, was hung on the north wall of the Central Hall (or “Golden Hall”) of the Great Hall of the People, a venue used by Chinese leaders for hosting foreign visitors and for foreign envoys to submit their credentials. The artist’s outstanding contributions to the modernization of traditional art and his accomplishments in reconciling Eastern and Western aesthetic concepts are strikingly apparent, all of which he completed while also being committed to education.

A Mural Suffused with the Beauty of Home

In 1981, the artist embarked upon what would become a decade of visits to foreign countries. These travels included a trip to New York, where, under the sponsorship of George H. W. Bush, Chief U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing, and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, the artist held a solo exhibition. Yuan also made visits to Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, not only facilitating the organization of the first group of American art students to visit China, but also becoming the first Chinese artist to engage in professional exchange with American and Chinese-Americans since the Chinese economic reform. Jiangnan Waterscape was completed during this time in the artist’s career. Yuan’s hometown of Nantong city is in Jiangsu province. The waterscape of canals, for the artist, conjured warmth and beauty. The genesis of Jiangnan Waterscape began with the artist traveling to Suzhou and creating a sketch from life. For him, this sketch was not a preliminary draft, but an independent work, a real-time record of the artist’s free and unrestrained emotions and experience. After the sketch was completed, the artist, in 1985, added oil colour to the work, and it became the ink and colour painting it is today.

Erasing Boundaries: Western Theory and Eastern Sentiments

Jiangnan Waterscape possesses a bird's-eye view. The black tiles and white walls of the residential architecture are arranged in an orderly fashion, from front to back, the use of colours meticulous and scientific. The sections of white wall, both those facing the light and against the light, separately exhibit effects of light and shadow, and the buildings, as they recede from the foreground, also fade in colour density. Jiangnan Waterscape uses Western art theory as its foundation, but the essence of Chinese artistic traditions is also blended into the picture. The painting uses a single-point perspective as its basis, which conveys two of the three techniques in Chinese perspective theory, “flat-distance” and “deep distance”, echoing  the ancient Chinese landscape paintings, evoking in the viewer a sense of being utterly immersed and liberated.

Creating Form with Lines: A Modern Interpretation of Chinese Tradition

The composition and form of Jiangnan Waterscape are built upon the rigor of the Western scientific theory, but it is nevertheless suffused with the sentiments and charm of the East. In his article On Form, Yuan elaborates on his own philosophy of form, emphasizing the importance of lines. Although Jiangnan Waterscape is an oil painting, the presence of lines is ubiquitous. The distinct silhouette of the buildings are traces of inspiration leftover from the sketched version of the scene, outlining the meticulously arranged geometric shapes, creating a sense of momentum that pushes from the bottom left to the top right, connecting together each disparate element of the painting into a unified whole. The watercourse is another important feature in the painting, occupying nearly half of the space, from the bottom left to the top right. In the placid mirror of the water’s surface, the forms of the houses are exaggerated and elongated. With the use of lines, the artist has ingeniously created a sense of distortion in an otherwise realist painting of a scene, stirring the viewer’s heart with the scenic beauty of Jiangnan.

A Testament to History, A Blueprint for Treasury Securities

Unlike most tasks commissioned by the government, Jiangnan Waterscape is an entirely self-directed work, fully conveying the artist’s emotions and creativity. After its completion, it was chosen by the Chinese Ministry of Finance to become the design blueprint for 1991 treasury securities. Treasury securities were first issued in 1877 in England, and weren’t adopted in China until the 1950s, and even then, were not custom-made. Beginning in 1998, the government stopped distributing treasury coupons altogether. This painting, in addition to its rich aesthetic value, its role in the financial development of China has also conferred upon it historical importance, bestowing the artist with national honour as well as historical significance.