Lot 1040
  • 1040

Yun Gee (Zhu Yuanzhi)

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Yun Gee (Zhu Yuanzhi)
  • Dancing in the Music
  • signed in Pinyin and Chinese, inscribed and dated 27
  • oil on paperboard
Pasadena Museum of California Art labels affixed to the reverse


Collection of Li-Lan, New York 
Acquired directly from the above by the present Asian owner


California, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Yun Gee: Poetry, Writing, Art, Memories, November 2003- February 2004 


This work is in overall very good condition. There are natural paper creases most notably near the four edges, presumably due to the artist's chosen medium.
"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

Yun Gee Dancing in the Music

In 1921, Yun Gee, only 15 years old, left his hometown (Guangdong) and moved to San Francisco to live with his father before starting on the road to becoming an artist seeking a presence in a foreign country. Young Yun Gee showed his talent and gift for art very early on. In 1924, he was admitted into the California School of Fine Art (currently known as San Francisco Art Institute) and received an education from Otis Oldfield. Inspired by his teacher, in 1927 he came up with the theory of avant-garde “Diamondism”. From 1926, he continuously promoted avant-garde art through joint and solo exhibitions. It was pointed out in Asian American Art—A History 1850-1970, published by Stanford University in 2008, that “Yun Gee was the top modern artist active in California in 1920s”, which undoubtedly recognizes his importance in art history. Dancing in the Music (Lot 1040), completed in 1927, is Yun Gee’s deep, penetrating and forward-looking artistic expression of Diamondism.

Revealing the root of life and the spirit

In the intricate divided sections of Dancing in the Music, traditional perspective and proportionality in the western world are no longer the only principles to be followed. Through the practice of Diamondism, Yun Gee showed us his observation of the multiple facets of the figure in the painting and its three considerations ­– physical, psychological and philosophical properties – accordingly enriching the essence of the work. The artist created a unique space through the use of dividing ridges, lines and arcs. In the painting, the sections of colour are structurally clear and richly powerful and tell us of the artist’s accuracy and confidence. When applying different tones of bouncing contrasting colours and similar colours, Yun Gee has skilfully shaped the form and depth before us.

The figure in the painting leaves his home and steps out on the long winding road. Actually, the work is strongly biographical. It reminds you that Yun Gee left his hometown and went to a foreign place to live with his father. Although America was open at that time, up until the 1960s, there was strong racial discrimination. With that kind of historical backdrop, we can imagine that although on one hand Yun Gee was outstanding in art, on the other hand he must have had many moments of helplessness and loneliness. However, we can see no sadness in the face in the painting, as if he is a fully-armed soldier with his chin up off to fight in the war. He gathers himself up to dance out the rhythm of his life just like Yun Gee pursuing a role on the international art stage, which gives this work a special meaning.

When creating this work, the artist specially picked a long canvas (75x52cm). It is not the standard canvas size used in the western world. It is close to the size of vertical Chinese wash paintings. On the left side of the painting Yun Gee wrote: “Bumpy intimacy, colourful brocade skirts like flying dragons, couples dancing to the music, only hear the lingering music of Ailian (this is because I feel Ailian is also a dancer)”. “Ailian” here refers to a litterateur of the Northern Song Dynasty, Zhou Dunyi. Zhou took Ailian as his motto hung up in the hall and was known for his work Ailian (Love of Water Lily). The water lily, unblemished from a slimy bed and graceful, symbolises the “gentleman among flowers”. In contrast with Yun Gee’s inscription, he just told us that, in a flourishing and dreamy era, he was the only one who was sober when everyone else was drunk, and the only one who was beyond reproach when everyone else was compromised. It was an emotional statement and one of self-encouragement. This is dramatically connected in all respects with the scene in the picture. The act of inscribing a painting is also something inherited from the traditional aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy and painting. A unique beauty generated by the pairing of oriental and western cultures radiates from the painting.

Looking back at the works of Mr. Yun Gee, there are only two pieces on which there are poems or long pieces of text. This is one of those works. Its rareness speaks for itself. In the early days, the work was in the collection of Yun Gee’s daughter, Li-Lan, who was also an artist. For past few decades it has been hung up on the left side of her front door and kept her company. Perhaps Li-Lan also took from it self-encouragement. You can see how she cherished it. Now, the work is being auctioned for the first time. It is one-time opportunity.