Lot 1013
  • 1013

Wang Yidong

Estimate
7,000,000 - 9,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Wang Yidong
  • Happy Together
  • signed and dated 2003
  • oil on canvas
  • 90 by 250 cm.;   35 1/2  by 98 1/2  in.

Provenance

Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Duisburg, The MKM – Centre for Modern and Contemporary Art, Light and Shadows - Cai Guo Qiang, Wang Yi Dong, Zhang Lin Hai, 11 May - 3 July 2005 
Hong Kong, Schoeni Art Gallery, Schoeni Art Gallery's 15th Anniversary Exhibition, 24 November - 11 December 2007, p. 33

Literature

Portraiture Selection by Representative Chinese Oil Painters - Ai Xuan, Wang Yidong, Yang Feiyun, Tianjin Yangliuqing Fine Arts Press, Tianjin, 2005, pp. 8-9
Representative Chinese Contemporary Oil Painter: Wang Yidong, Beijing, People’s Fine Arts Press, Beijing, 2006, pp. 83-85

Catalogue Note

Committing to a Lifetime in the Eternity of a Moment

Wang Yidong’s Realist Masterpiece Happy Together

With an unparalleled mastery of Realist technique, Wang Yidong is recognized as one of the founders and pioneers of Chinese Realism. A product of the Shandong Art School and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, the artist crossed the Pacific to the United States in the 1980s, where he became enlightened by the works of the great Western masters, his contact with the foreign art world spurring his own artistic growth. His heart, however, remained tethered to the motherland, and after returning to China, he devoted himself to refining his ability to portray the local, rustic environment in a style that united European classical painting, American Regionalism, and Chinese aesthetics.  By the turn of the millennium, the artist’s realist techniques had reached a pinnacle, his works becoming richer in narrative and humanistic spirit. Happy Together (Lot 1013), completed in 2003, is a masterpiece representing the artist’s continuous pursuit of higher summits.

A Love Song Rife with Poetry

Happy Together is one of the few paintings by the artist that feature two human subjects. Not only are the painting’s dimensions unusually large, through the interaction between the two figures, a drama and tension is created upon the canvas. Upon a vast plain of snow, a couple lies low, meeting at the centre of the painting. Their body language is plain and simple, yet the composition is notably peculiar, drawing the viewer’s gaze from the perimeters of the canvas to the centre, paralleling the union of the man and woman, their joining together. The young man on the left exudes a winsome naiveté as he earnestly places a bracelet on the young woman’s wrist.  The young woman on the left appears innocent and romantic, her limpid eyes looking directly at the man, spellbound, as if she has fully surrendered to the deep longing of youthful romance. Through the photographic realism of the image, Happy Together presents to the viewer the romance of an inexperienced and timid couple, a scene overflowing with abstract poetry.

The Bracelet

The drama of Happy Together lies in the act of the young man slipping the floral, silver bracelet onto the young woman’s wrist. To recognize the significance of this act is to recognize the significance of the painting, as well as its particular significance within this series of works. Bracelets are one of the most historied objects in Chinese civilization, its emblematic qualities dating back to the matriarchal period in Chinese society. In the West, it is the ring that symbolizes commitment, the wearing of it on the fourth finger representing marriage. In China, this role is occupied by the bracelet. Even today, when two people marry, the groom’s parents will bestow the bride with the gift of a bracelet, to serve as a family heirloom. In the traditional countryside, this custom has been entirely preserved. Upon this, one can infer that the young man in Happy Together is in the act of proposing to the young woman, an important moment of promise and commitment. The bracelet is not merely a gift, but symbolic of the couple’s beautiful future together. After completing Happy Together, the artist continued to create another portrait of a couple, Morning Mist in Mengshan, again using the bracelet and the “binding of one’s hair”, suggesting a woman’s coming of age, to symbolize marriage. But Happy Together is virtually the only painting in the artist’s oeuvre in which the artist so explicitly portrays the act of proposal. 

Elements from both Chinese Painting and Film

Wang Yidong has mentioned his love for film on several occasions, frequently infusing elements of film into his paintings; at the same time, he has been deeply inspired by Song dynasty gongbi landscape painting. Together, these two influences have coalesced into a singular style of painting. The remarkable dimensions of Happy Together invoke the size of the movie screen, as well as the horizontal axis of Chinese paintings. Emphasizing width and depth, the artist has eliminated unnecessary height, accentuating the vast boundlessness of the snowy scene. This type of arrangement echoes the tenants of the ancient Chinese theory regarding the “three distances”, utilizing both “level distance” and “deep distance”, bestowing the painting with the same feeling of dimension as the horizontal scenes of snow in Song dynasty painting. Both the wisdom of the ancients and the contemporary are captured in this painting.

 

Happy Together pursues a sense of expansiveness, its depth created by the scenery in the painting. To achieve this, the artist deliberately placed two rows of sapling in front of the two main subjects, creating the effect of distance while at the same time preventing the left and right sides from being occupied by too much white space. Additionally, to maintain the vitality of the snowy scene, he cleverly inserts homes at the base of the mountain, strands of smoke issuing from their chimneys, subtly gesturing at the lives that exist within the snowy mountains. This detail also hints at what will follow after the engagement of the man and woman: that they will begin a family together, and raise the next generation in their hometown as the very models of a fulfilled life.

Human Warmth and Snowy Optimism: The Idealism in Regionalism

Happy Together is an example of the sublime purity in Wang Yidong’s Regionalism, a particularly striking characteristic in a realist painting. Many of the Chinese painters of the 1940s and 50s experienced the Cultural Revolution during their youth, were forced to rural areas for re-education, these experiences becoming indelible marks upon their life. This not only led to the "Scar Art" of the 1970s and 80s, but also blended, during this time when Chinese Realism was at its height, with Andrew Wyeth’s American Regionalism, creating a combination of East and West that resonates with strong historical significance. Although the landscape in Happy Together is a vast snowy scene, it contains not a tinge of bleakness or desolation; rather, it exudes a clean peacefulness. This is in contrast to Wyeth’s depictions of the snowy American countryside, and must have been a deliberate choice in tone made by the artist. Additionally, while the artist uses the techniques of Photographic Realism, he implements an idealism, refining the image of his homeland, portraying a kind of nirvana, such that not only is the white expanse of snowy ground untainted by the slightest speck of dust, even the colours of the subjects’ clothing, the dried leaves in the foreground, are highlighted with a stunning vividness. This technique evokes the styles used by the Renaissance masters, such as Titian and Tintoretto, by whom the artist must have been influenced.

The Tower of Strength of Chinese Realism

Realism first made its way onto Chinese land in the 1920s, carried over by artist Xu Beihong. Today, it has enjoyed nearly a century of history in China. Initially, the adoption of Realism in China was confined to technique, but it has since penetrated deeper, its roots reaching and fusing with the soil of culture. Throughout, Wang Yidong has consistently persisted in using the folk life of Shandong province as his subject, bringing these scenes into the hallowed halls of museums. In fact, to survey the works of Chinese Realist masters, such as Chen Yifei’s depictions of Shanghai, Ai Xuan’s Tibet, Luo Zhongli’s Sichuan, Jiang Guofang’s Qing Court, and Zhang Li’s Xinjiang province, is to see a massive localization movement within the wave of Chinese Realism. Whether in breadth or depth, this realism can only be identified as a different breed when compared to the realism of the early days, in which artists were creating only what they inherited from what already existed within the school of art. Within this world of oil painting, then, China appears rich and manifold, rich in flesh and blood, and breaks free from the Chinoiserie style imagined by the Western gaze imposed in the 17th century as well as the stereotypical images of the Late Qing dynasty paintings that had made their way overseas.

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