Lot 1076
  • 1076

Zhang Xiaogang

18,000,000 - 25,000,000 HKD
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  • Zhang Xiaogang
  • Tiananmen No. 3
  • executed in 1993
  • oil on canvas


Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Private Asian Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above


China, Chengdu, Sichuan Art Gallery, Chinese Fine Arts in 1990's: Experiences in Fine Arts of China, December, 1993
Hong Kong, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hanart TZ Gallery, Umbilical Cord of History: Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, 6 March to 14 March 2004, p.42


Zhang Xiaogang, Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, Finland, 2008, p. 153
Zhang Xiaogang: Shadows in the Soul, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia, 2009, p. 15 (Photograph taken in the artist's studio)
Victoria Lu ed., 100 Contemporary Chinese Artist Collection - Zhang Xiaogang, Modern Press, Beijing, China, 2009, p. 12 (Photograph taken in the artist's studio)


This work is generally in good condition. Due to the nature of the fluorescent paint used, as well as the painting's age, the pink and purple pigments have slightly discoloured. Along the lower area of the work, there are some minor raised cracks on areas of thicker impasto, all of which are in stable conditions. Having examined the work under ultraviolet light, there appears to be no evidence of restoration.
"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

A Portrait of the PeopleTiananmen No. 3
Zhang Xiaogang

As the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen Square has always been regarded as the symbolic center of China’s political power. The gate tower overlooking the large public square also becomes the perfect place for mass gatherings and movements. Indeed, every time when the square is populated, it would certainly forecast dramatic changes within the Chinese society. Ever since the fifteenth year under the ruling of Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Yongle (A.D.1417), Tiananmen Square has been used as the site for issuing edicts and important ceremonies. After the fall of the dynasty era, it was then used by the Chinese government as the center for inspecting the army. Later on, during the revolution period, Mao Zedong would even meet with the Red Guards from the gate tower, reaffirming the highest level of political power associated with the square. The distinctive geographic location is also favored by political activists who organized numerous demonstrations in the area, with one being the national May Fourth Movement in 1919, when the public protested against the Beijyang government in agreeing to grant the rights of Shandong province from Germany to Japan. With the establishment of the new China era, Tiananmen Square continues to be closely linked with historical events. The many political symbols implied within have given Tiananmen Square a unique status throughout China’s history, whether in the imperial era or the modern republic era, it is where numerous significant historical events took place and is closely linked with the fate of the Chinese people.

National history is a prominent theme in Zhang’s artistic creation, it can be found in every piece of his works dated from the nineties to recent years. In 1993 Zhang returned from his research trip in Europe, the cultural shock evoked his sense of ethnic identity, and from here he established his own artistic style. “I have been looking at the contemporary world since ‘the earlier times’ and found my own place. I still don't know who I am after all these. But one idea emerged clearly: if I still want to be an artist, I must be an artist of ‘China’. ”1   

Tiananmen No.3 was created during this important period of awakening. Besides, Zhang created a series of painting in portraits of his friends and family, which are the early versions of his later well-known Bloodline: Big Family series.  Tiananmen is an exceptional subject matter throughout Zhang’s whole artistic career; there are only three pieces created from the Tiananmen Square series.  It is hard to find themes of political figures or landscapes within Zhang Xiaogang’s paintings, the Tiananmen Square featured in Tiananmen Square series proves to be the only exception to the case. The political and historical implication of Tiananmen Square is distinctly present, it is closely related with the subject matter repeated in his bodies of work. To Zhang, Tiananmen Square is the portrait of the Chinese people.

The present work (Lot 1076) is the most significant work from the Tiananmen Square series first released in 1993. In the Tiananmen Square series, the Gate of Heavenly Peace grows larger with each canvas, evoking the photographic device of zooming in on a target. On view, contrary to the first and second, Tiananmen No.3  deploys a close-up composition, the gate tower occupies half of the canvas, it is the most in-focus and integrated view of the subject among all three. The gate tower is rendered in pink, symbolising the communist regime. A series of musical bars adorns the top of the canvas, seemingly cryptic notations which actually render the tune of a popular song. The monumental edifice is seen against a gray sky, and across a sea of chiaroscuro paving stones. The composition of the stones differs only in length from that of the trompe l’oeil frame which surrounds the image.

Zhang Xiaogang traveled a slightly different trajectory than other artists of his generation. He was an early bloomer, graduating from the Sichuan Academy in 1982 and achieving some renown instantly when Li Xianting wrote about his unorthodox graduation work in the influential Fine Arts Newspaper. During the so-called 1985 “New Wave,” when the academies were undergoing their most intense spout of innovation and change, Zhang Xiaogang was outside the core of the scene, a difficult four-year era that saw him hospitalized and withdrawn from large-scale creative work. When he was finally invited back to his alma mater as a teacher in 1986, he quickly set upon assembling the elements that have become central to his later famous work: the palette of grays, yellows, and reds, the room-corner perspective, the vaguely surrealist assemblages of heads, hands and books. In short, the late 1980s were an extremely productive period for Zhang Xiaogang, capped by the event in 1989 which ended on Tiananmen Square.

The critic Karen Smith has written about a series of oil and watercolor works on paper that Zhang produced immediately after June 4th, pointing to their “aura of religiosity [that] was invoked almost as a prayer, for inner calm, an act of meditation”.2 These works demonstrate a rawness and solemnity that can only stem from the incident, juxtaposing iconic religious motifs from Christianity and Buddhism in a search for transcendence. 

But life moved on, and even got better, for Zhang Xiaogang in the years immediately following. His art continued to move forward, his palette coming into closer relief and his formal vocabulary growing ever more succinct and direct. Personally speaking, he married Teng Lei, his fiancé of three years in 1992. Perhaps most influential on his later work, Zhang Xiaogang traveled in June of that year to visit her in Germany, where she was then studying. On this extended trip he was finally able to experience first-hand the works to which he had looked for inspiration through the 1980s, but perhaps the real fruit of the journey for him was the chance to encounter work by Gerhard Richter. Zhang has noted that “I had no idea how to express the feeling [photographs] imparted to me within a painting until I saw the work of Gerhard Richter in Germany. Before going to Germany my favorite artist was Anselm Kiefer.”3 It was at this point that some of Zhang’s compositions began to feature a painted, frame-like border-an element central to the presentation of the present work.

Back in Sichuan and then Kunming after his return, Zhang Xiaogang began a period of thinking in which his Big Family series has its origin. During this pivotal moment in 1993, he painted first his red and yellow babies, and then the three paintings of Tiananmen, before completing the first Big Family work at the end of the year. Zhang Xiaogang’s nascent, Richter-esque interest in photographic depiction, which would ground his work through most of the nineties, is nowhere so evident as in this painting, which carries with it a sense of distortion through a camera lens. It is as if the events of 1989 would reside, like the yellow monument at the back of this composition, forever on the horizon of memory, there to be zoomed in or out upon at the viewer’s will. 

1 Interview with Zhang Xiaogang < Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980–1990 > , Asia Art Archive, 2009

2 Karen Smith, Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China, Scalo, 2003

3 Refer to 2