Lot 827
  • 827

Xu Lei

350,000 - 450,000 HKD
437,500 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Xu Lei
  • Perched Parrot
  • signed and with sealmark (lower right)
  • ink and colour on paper, framed
  • 58 by 45 cm; 22¾ by 17¾ in.
painted in 1993
signed in Chinese and marked with one seal of the artist 


Browse & Darby, London
Acquired by the family of the present owners 


UK, London, Browse & Darby, Eight Chinese Contemporary Painters, 29 November - 22 December, 1995, pl. 27
Hong Kong, Alisan Fine Arts, Xu Lei: The Mystery of Absence, 14 - 31 March, 1995, p. 39


Xu Lei, Hebei Education Publishing House, Shijiazhuang, China, 2003, pl. 7
Xu Lei
, Art and Culture Publishing House, Beijing, China, 2013, p. 105

Catalogue Note

Only in recent years has contemporary ink emerged into the marketplace as a momentous category of art, highlighting artists inspired by or trained in the ink painting tradition. When the present lots entered the Hampstead collection, their addition was hardly market-driven, but rather, motivated by a deep respect for the materials and historically rooted approach to painting. The Chinese art in the Collection inspired the exhibition Eight Chinese Contemporary Painters in 1995, which displayed ink paintings by Yu Hui and Xu Lei. This London exhibition was a relatively early international commercial presentation of contemporary art from China in general, and  foreshadowed not only the emerging reverence for Chinese art, but also the  patronage of contemporary ink painting; a genre that can neither be considered wholly Chinese nor Western, though  truly contemporary. 

Bearing the weight of history, Chinese painters have gradually broken the bonds of tradition, pushed the boundaries of interpretation, and consistently rejuvenated an art form venerated for centuries. In China, the artist is revered as an intellectual, one who is both socially and intellectually responsible for the cultural and spiritual welfare of his or her people. Michael Sullivan writes that in Chinese painting, there is no such thing as pure formal beauty; art is inseparable from ethics and moral judgement. Like their contemporaries of the Cynical Realist and Political Pop movements, Xu Lei and Yu Hui represent a generation of painters whose choice of medium can be considered a political act in itself; as classically trained ink painters, they have embraced the past with subtle restraint and imbued their works with hidden meaning.

As a true contemporary literati and poetic scholar of Chinese art history, Xu Lei carefully presents a unique style that speaks to the world. Xu provokes his viewers with ideas of Surrealism in his paintings, but he is deeply rooted in the exploration of classical aesthetics typical of Chinese literati painting. By placing objects in unconventional and impossible contexts, Xu Lei infuses the ancient discipline with contemporary concepts of time and space, and provides simultaneous references to the past and present, reality and fiction.

Inspired by Ming dynasty woodblock prints of theatrical stages, Xu Lei’s other favoured motif is the screen that directs attention to a staged drama. Framed by drawn curtains, Perched Parrot (Lot 827) demonstrates a mastery of the gongbitechnique where every aspect, including the feathers of the blue parrot atop a pair of Ming dynasty horseshoe chairs, is rendered with meticulous detail. The frontal arrangement of the chairs strongly suggests the absence of their sitters, creating an ambience of emptiness and stillness. Unlike the obvious interpretations of a realist painting, understanding Xu’s surreal scenes requires viewer engagement and provokes deeper meaning.