Lot 1078
  • 1078

Zhou Chunya

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Zhou Chunya
  • Radiance of the Sunset
  • oil on canvas
dated 1982; signed and titled in Chinese on the reverse, framed


Private Collection 
Poly, Beijing, 2 June, 2011, lot 894
Private Collection
Christie's, Shanghai, 26 April, 2014, lot 19
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


USA, New York, Hefner Galleries, Dragon - Contemporary Oil Paintings from the People's Republic of China, 1987
China, Shanghai, Shanghai Museum of Art, 1971 – 2010 Forty Years Retrospective Review of Zhou Chunya, 13-23 June, 2010


Hong Lei ed., Zhou Chunya, Timezone 8, Beijing, China, 2010, p. 93, pl


This work is generally in good condition. There are small areas of craquelures throughout the work, with the most obvious being on the impasto of the figure's coat. Having examined the work under the ultraviolet light, there appears to be small patches of restoration throughout the surface, mostly around the figure's hat and along the mountain lines. Another restoration appears to be in the center of the work on the figure's coat, which measures approximately 3 cm. Please note all such restorations are not visible under natural light. There is very minor wear in handling marks around the corners.
"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 Psychology of the Colour Brown
Zhou Chunya’s Radiance of the Sunset

In considering the last thirty years of Zhou Chunya’s artistic journey, one senses that he seems not particularly concerned with narrative, whether the canvas is telling a story; rather, he sets his attention on colour and form, elements for which the artist possesses a keen sensitivity. Among Zhou’s most representative works, what consistently strikes the viewer is his iconic colour composition. Through the artist’s use of a vibrant, blood-red in both his Mountain and Rock series from the 1990s, as well as the variations created in response to the former, the Taihu Lake Stone series; or the symbolic green used in his Green Dog series; or the ardent and deep peach tones used in the Peach Blossom series following 2005, one senses that Zhou’s wielding and execution of colour is at once free and unconstrained, yet forms a language system of its own, often interacting and reflecting the imagery and the emotions of the subjects in his paintings. Once accustomed to the ostentatious colours of Zhou’s paintings, it may be hard to imagine that the colour loved by the artist in his early years, the 1980s, was brown. Recognising the stillness and purity of this colour, its rich expressive potential, is the key to understanding Zhou’s early works. Zhou’s graduation piece Radiance of the Sunset (Lot 1078), completed in 1982, is one of the iconic paintings from his Brown series, during the creation of which he experienced his first creative surge. In 1987, Radiance of the Sunset, along with two other paintings that were sketches from Tibetan life (New Generation of Tibetan and Sheep Shearing) were shown at an exhibition hosted in New York, called “Chinese Contemporary Oil Painting” (also known as the “Dragon Exhibition”). The exhibition brought together a large circle of renowned Chinese oil painters, such as Wu Guanzhong, Jin Shangyi, Luo Zhongli, Chen Yifei, Ai Xuan, and others. This exhibition was the first collective call to the international world from the new Chinese oil painters, and it was the first emergence of Zhou Chunya on the international stage.

Zhou Chunya was born, in 1955, to an artistic and intellectual family in the city of Chongqing. From an early age, his father, a literary critic, encouraged Zhou Chunya’s efforts in painting, and left him a wealth of material resources – books on Eastern and Western art theory as well as an original painting by Zhang Daqian. The travails of the Cultural Revolution did not extinguish Zhou Chunya’s ambition and passion toward art. During the art education classes of Studio 57, he frequently sequestered himself at the library to peruse the collection of Western art catalogues and the biographies of artists. At the time, most of his exposure was to the Social Realist paintings from the Soviet Union.

In 1977, following the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Chunya enrolled in the Painting Department at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied professional printmaking. Among his classmates were Luo Zhongli, Cheng Conglin, He Duoling, Gao Xiaohua, and others. This was a group of young artists, who at the turn of the decade launched a movement that later became known as Scar Art. They injected humanist sentiments into the Soviet-style Social Realism in depictions of the tragic and painful history of the Cultural Revolution. Yet Zhou Chunya was never entirely swept along by this current. On the contrary, he felt as though Scar Art utilised a kind of theatrical narrative that was not simpatico with his own sensibilities. “At the time I’d also experimented regularly with plot-driven paintings, with Scar Art-type subjects, but ultimately I couldn’t do it. Perhaps it’s that I can’t immerse myself in thinking that is too complicated. I wanted simply to sketch from life, because in sketching from life, I am facing nature in a very direct, flesh-and-blood way. This allows me to keep the expression of art within my personal emotional impulses.”1 Thus, in 1980, the 25-year-old Zhou Chunya and his classmate Zhang Xiaogang set off for the Tibetan enclave of the Ruoergai Prairie in Sichuan’s Hongyuan County. There, they sketched from life, the simplicity and nativist style of the Tibetans drawing him far from the political and mammoth historical topics. Henceforth, the artist devoted all of his attention into the rhythmic form of art itself and captured a deeper aesthetic consciousness, releasing his personal sentiments upon the canvas through texture, colour, and brushwork. Zhou Chunya once said of himself, “After departing from the experience on the prairie, many of the concrete events receded from my mind. But what remained was the intensity of the grasslands, the thick colours, the purity and coarseness of the Tibetans, as well as the lines that run through these colors and forms.”2

These colours, forms, and lines quickly coalesced into what became Zhou Chunya’s early style. In the primitive and bold renderings of the Tibetans, he fused the techniques of post-impressionism with German neo-expressionism, uniting his subjective artistic language with the beauty of everyday humanity. Art critic Li Xianting once expressed that he believed the works from Zhou Chunya’s Tibet period served as a connecting thread from the Scar Art movement to the ‘85 New Wave Movement that followed. He wrote, “In reality, Zhou Chunya’s New Generation of Tibetan predates Chen Danqing’s Tibet Series. Further, Zhou’s attention is not on the trials of the Tibetans, coloured by politics or social concerns. Rather, he focuses purely on the natural and rugged uniqueness of the Tibetans, that which belongs to the realm of the aesthetic. Whether it was his intention or not, the artist’s later work Sheep Shearing was also an enlightening example for the New Wave movement.”3

Unlike New Generation of Tibetan (1980) and Sheep Shearing (1981), among Zhou Chunya’s Tibet series, Radiance of the Sunset is more poetic and sentimental in its aura. At the same time, the thick brown colour tone in Radiance of the Sunset appears particularly brilliant and saturated. Speaking to his love of brown during this period, Zhou Chunya speculates that this was related to his temperament at the time: “I believed this colour was more substantial, more comfortable, and neutral, it wasn’t too stimulating.”4 The artist went as far as to name his newborn daughter Hehe, meaning “Brownie”. Radiance of the Sunset depicts a scene in the lives of Tibetan herders at sunset. A lone young Tibetan woman leads her yak and dog, en route to some destination, the long wooden fence extending all the way into the distant mountain roads. The faraway mountain peaks are drenched in the amber glow of the dying sun. The human, animals, and landscape are similarly soaked in the gauzy and air-rich halo of red sunlight (one can see it on the Tibetan girl’s hat rim, the dog and the yak’s backs, the sides of the fence). The most striking aspect of this painting is in its management of space. Although it is a space that appears to contain depth, it simultaneously exudes a sense of one-dimensionality. This is partially due to Zhou Chunya’s preferred impasto method as well as his use of black outlining. But at the same time, this is related to his training: “Perhaps it was because I was being trained in prints then, so I liked the flat surface, I preferred it over the feeling of depth.”5 In other words, the sense of form upon the canvas was an aspect Zhou Chunya had devoted great attention to. Although the colours in Radiance of the Sunset are dark and sombre, the painting is nevertheless free from oppressiveness. This is due to the artist’s masterful control of tension and relaxation in the brushwork, the layering of detailed colour, as well as the fine treatment of texture. Zhou Chunya portrayed the simple yet bountiful and content lives of the Tibetan herders, making evident his deep love for this land, and for the people who live upon it.

Art critic Yin Shuangxi believed that Zhou Chunya, up until 1986, was creatively dedicated to portraying the “simple memories and candid expression of an individual life,”6 just as he did in the portrayal of bucolic pastoral sentiment in Radiance of the Sunset. For Zhou Chunya, Radiance of the Sunset seems both a conclusion, as well as a step toward what became his next creative stage. In this painting, the artist’s sincere attitude, the sturdy foundations of his training, the colours and brushwork rich with the traces of Expressionism, here unite beautifully into a splendid whole.

1 Liu Chun: “Concept Over Craft”, Art, Life, Trend: A Dialogue with Forty-One Chinese Contemporary Artists, Yunnan People’s Publishing House, January 1, 2003

2 Zhou Chunya: “I Paint in Oil”, Art, 1982, vol. 4

3 Li Xianting: “Zhou Chunya Amid a Decade of Art Movements”, China Avant Garde, Jiang Su Fine Arts Publishing House, August, 2000, p. 282

4 Li Xianting, “Interview with Zhou Chunya”, Zhou Chunya Retrospective, 1971-2010, Timezone 8 Limited, 2010, p. 27

5 Li Xianting, “Interview with Zhou Chunya”, Zhou Chunya Retrospective, 1971-2010, Timezone 8 Limited, 2010, p. 25

6 Yin Shuangxi, “Jinghuajiqing”, North West Fine Arts, 1996, vol. 4