Lot 828
  • 828

Xu Lei

500,000 - 800,000 HKD
625,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Xu Lei
  • Shattered Illusion
  • signed and dated '1997' (on the mount)
  • ink and colour on paper, framed
  • 64 by 50.5 cm; 25 by 19¾ in.
signed, titled and dated 1997 lower right in pencil on mounting


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


London, Browse & Darby, Yu Hui and Xu Lei: New York, 8 - 24 October, 1997, pl. 27

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.

The horse is a significant icon in Xu’s artistic lexicon, ranging from a delicate creature hiding behind sheer curtains to a virile beast exemplifying the power of Tang dynasty chargers. In Shattered Illusion (Lot 828), the horse is a metaphor of an unspoken Chinese literary tradition: the shadow of a white horse across a crevice symbolises the passing of time. As the white horse peers into a room with two empty chairs—alluding to the absence or recent presence of another protagonist—Xu’s lyrical depiction draws the viewer into a mysterious realm that conveys a transcendence of time and space.