- Zeng Xiaojun
- Sound of Pines and Stream
- ink and colour on paper, hanging scroll
- executed in early 1990s
signed in Chinese and marked with one seal of the artist
L.J. Wender Fine Chinese Paintings, New York
Private American Collection
Connected Trees from the Forbidden City No. 1 (Lot 571) is one of a series of paintings depicting two giant cypresses, present in the Imperial Garden of the Forbidden City in Beijing, connected to each other with intertwined branches grown over time. Representing the loyal love between the Emperor and Empress, the centuries old trees hand-in-hand witnessed the dramatic changes of the Qing dynasty and its fall into modern times. Zeng's portrait of the "Loving Couple" trees portrays them not only as natural objects, but as living history of both nature and humanity.
Fascinated by ancient trees with historical and cultural significance, Zeng portrayed the Qing Qi Gu Guai (meaning Pure, Rare, Ancient, Eccentric) cypresses in the Situ Temple located at the foot of the Dengwei Mountain in Suzhou that date back to the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Over two-thousand years old, these four trees have withstood the test of time, natural disasters, and human destruction, surviving in their bizarre forms as "three-dimensional paintings, silent poetry, and living cultural heritage."1 Zeng's monumental Qing, Qi, Gu, Guai(Lot 572) painting is the sixth iteration of the 2004 series collectively depicting the cypresses with their twisted forms and a strong sense of vitality and strength; Each painting in the series is unique in its composition, physical size, and use of colour or monochromatic ink. This present lot is one of the largest in the series and is the most dramatic in Zeng's characteristic wet and dry painting style.
As a contemporary artist, Zeng started his artistic journey specialising in mural painting and building a varied artistic foundation in oil and ink painting. In the 1990s he developed a focus on landscapes in a traditional Chinese style, which gained the attention of collectors abroad as he established himself in the U.S. through several solo and group exhibitions in Boston and New York. The Sounds of Pines and Stream (Lot 573) is one of Zeng's representative landscapes of this period, which presents a classical composition with harmonious brown-and-green colour washes. The misty atmosphere amplified by the soft-wet ink wash and the void left in-between invites the viewer into the scene to watch the waterfall pouring down the mountains and enjoy the sounds of nature.
His strong interest in everything to do with nature—especially having a penchant for wood—serves as a constant inspiration and motivation for the development of his artistic career. Departing from traditional landscape compositions, trees and roots are often Zeng's main subject of study as independent and isolated imagery. Colour washes give way to monochromatic ink with meticulous brushstrokes and superb control over wet and dry, lines and dots, which are characteristic of his signature painting style.
1 Shen, Fu (1763 – 1825), Six Records of a Floating Life, 1877.