Lot 1030
  • 1030

Yun Gee (Zhu Yuanzhi)

4,000,000 - 7,000,000 HKD
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  • Yun Gee (Zhu Yuanzhi)
  • Seated Man Reading
  • signed 
  • oil on board
executed circa 1926-1927


Collection of Li-Lan
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Taipei, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, The Art of Yun Gee, 25 March - 14 June 1992, p. 85


This work is overall in very good condition. The overall surface is varnished. There is no sign of restoration under UV examination.
"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

The Resonant Cry of Light and Color

A Masterpiece from Yun Gee’s Golden Age: Seated Man Reading


In the history of 20th century Chinese contemporary art, Chinese-American Yun Gee has achieved legendary status. The 15-year-old artist left his native home of Guangdong province in 1921 to join his father in San Francisco. In 1924, he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts, the first step of his epic journey. During that time and into the 1930s, America was sailing fast on the winds of modern art, and Yun Gee was one of the movement’s shining captains. Under the tutelage of Otis Oldfield, Yun Gee, whose artistic foundations were set by the principles of Synchromism, had begun bringing into his paintings his own perspectives and philosophies, which culminated in the creation of a theory that he called Diamondism. The artist had formally established a singular style, an act unprecedented by other Chinese artists of his generation.


In 1926, Yun Gee and Otis Oldfield together established the Modern Gallery, a space committed to promoting avant-garde art, and where Yun Gee gave the first solo exhibition of his life. His gifts and talents on full display, nearly all of the twenty-some pieces shown at the exhibition were purchased. His patrons included the Prince and Princess Achielle Murat, visiting from Paris, who acquired two pieces for their personal collection. In the same year, Yun Gee established the Chinese Revolutionary Artists’ Club, and began hosting classes as an instructor of modern art. Asian American Art – A History 1850-1970, published by Stanford University in 2008, names Yun Gee as being “among the most advanced modernist painters active in California during the 1920s,” a statement that unequivocally establishes Yun Gee’s importance in the pages of art history. His works have been acquired for the collections of Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and Washington D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Seated Man Reading, the lot currently on offer, was completed between 1926 and 1927, and is one of the representative works from the artist’s creative zenith.


The Visual and the Psychological – in Tension and in Concert


Otis Oldfield’s Synchromism was concerned with the contrast and harmony of colors, the construction of composition, and advocated for the deconstruction and reconstruction of the subject. These principles were the foundation of Yun Gee’s education. But Yun Gee soon delved deeper, and developed his own theory of Diamondism in 1927. It proposed the fusion of three properties in the process of creation: the physical, which included colors, shape, and light; the psychological, which included emotion, desire, and observation; and the cerebral, which included time, morality, and purpose. He believed that Diamondism could reveal the internal words of its subjects, and thus, the root of all life. Seated Man Reading is a demonstration of this theory in practice.


When comparing Otis Oldfield’s Portrait of Yun Gee with Seated Man Reading, one notices that in Yun Gee’s work, whether in the subject or the space of the background, the work evinces traces of the artist’s ideas toward deconstruction and reconstruction. Although the painting is two-dimensional, the bold and forceful geometric color blocks evoke an impression of a multi-dimensional spatial orientation, the full and rich colors in leaping motion, a dynamic interweave of light and color that emits the sound of resonance. The dance of light becomes music. Observe carefully and one will notice a shaft of light spilling from the right side of the canvas onto the man’s hair, cheeks, his open book, and onto his legs, crossed upon the floor. The traces of the movement of light and the experience of time are here silently preserved, while the captivating energy that erupts from the interplay of light and color draws the viewer into a direct and profound psychological experience. Our hearts have seemingly been ensconced in an energy that is warm and steady. This experience is no fluke, but meticulously-considered design. Comparing this with an earlier work of the artist’s, Man in a Red Chair, which similarly features a seated man as the subject, this later work is a fuller realization of the artist’s careful observation toward his human subjects, as well as his maturity and effortless mastery of color, space, and composition.


Nostalgia for the East; An Investigation of the Inner Essence


"Any rigorous, sincere creation must also aptly reflects its times, communicating the thinking and preoccupations of that time."

Yun Gee


Although Yun Gee left China for the States at the young age of 15, his homeland never strayed far from his mind. The artist was known for playing the classical Chinese instruments of the bamboo flute and the erhu, and for wearing his traditional long gown on the streets of America. On his bookshelf, alongside the Christian Bible and Freud’s An Outline of Psycho-Analysis was Confucius’ Analects. Although he was fully immersed in American society, this belonging never diminished his fondness for Eastern tradition and culture. It was this idiosyncrasy, too, that inflected his artistic creations. From his early to his later works, he often used Chinese people and culture as the subjects of his creations. In Seated Man Reading, for example, the main subject is wearing a Chinese buttoned tunic and traditional black cloth shoes. The Chinese man, head lowered, is seated outdoors under the warmth of the sun, reading. The painting is a record of the man’s steady disposition, his courtly character, as well as the silent, private conversation that must be occurring in his mind. Yun Gee imposes upon it a modern interpretation, revealing a kind of self-narrating observation and self-identity, an investigation into cultural-identification, aspects that make the painting truly unforgettable.


The painting was earliest in the possession of artist Li-Lan. In 1992, it was among the pieces featured at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, which hosted Yun Gee’s first large-scale retrospective exhibition in Asia. The provenance and record of its display at the exhibition are clear and complete. Among the works completed by the artist prior to 1927, the great majority of oil on canvas paintings are sized at or below 6F (40x31cm) or 4F (44x24cm). Seated Man Reading, then, at 12F (60x47cm) is at twice the usual size of the paintings from that period, one of the rare large-scale representatives of the artist’s work. Its offering today marks a truly valuable opportunity for art collectors.