Lot 1049
  • 1049

WANG HUAIQING | Yuhuchun Vase

12,000,000 - 24,000,000 HKD
14,520,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Wang Huaiqing
  • Yuhuchun Vase
  • signed in Chinese
  • oil on canvas
  • 213 by 122 cm; 83 ⅞ by 48 in.
executed in 1999


Christie’s, Hong Kong, 24 May 2008, Lot 191
Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector


New York, Armory, The Asian Art Exhibition, 2000
Hong Kong, Exchange Square, Traces of Nature – Art of Wang Huai Qing, 2005


Wang Huai Qing, Wang Huai Qing, Beijing, 2004-5, p. 129
Xu Qinghui, Fong Fuk Yan, Wang Tiantian, ed., Wang Huai Qing - Traces of Nature, Yan Gallery Hong Kong, 2005, p. 71
Wang Tiantian, ed., Wang Huaiqing - A Painter's Painter in Contemporary China, Ediciones Polígrafa & Seattle Art Museum, Barcelona, 2010, p. 101

Catalogue Note

Roaming the World in the Peace of Home Modern art almost became extinct in the post-war Mainland China. It was only due to the perseverance of a few masters, such as Wu Guanzhong, that it survived for some three decades until flourishing again after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Led by Wang Huaiqing, the Tongdairen Group was the first unofficial art group to exhibit at the National Art Museum of China in the era of liberalisation. They reignited modern art in the 1980's and gave rise to the '85 New Wave and the subsequent flourishing of contemporary Chinese art. In the 1980's, Wang Huaiqing himself stunned the art world with Bo Le, which cemented his status in China and launched his global career. A graduate of the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, Wang was trained in Soviet socialist realism but conceptually influenced by Wu Guanzhong's modernism. In the relatively free but artistically conservative 1980's, Wang found the perfect time to express his creativity and boldly forewent his renowned realist style to explore a semi-abstract pictorial language. At the same time, he refused to participate in Cynical Realism and Political Pop, pictorial trends considered pandering to Western taste, and resolutely remained grounded in Chinese traditions. Over time, his persistence earned him worldwide approval. His work has been recognized by various Asian collectors and museums, and was included in the 1988 exhibition China--Five Thousand Years at the Guggenheim Museum in New York as representatives of Chinese oil painting of the 1990's. In 2010, the Seattle Museum of Art mounted a world-class retrospective exhibition of his work, cementing his status as one of the foremost contemporary artists of the world.

Collecting Wang Huaiqing's works requires not only financial resources but also good fortune. Wang's works have long surpassed the HKD 50,000,000 mark, but compared to works by his peers they appear more less frequently in auctions. From 1991 until now, only about 90 of his works have been auctioned, indicating the uniformly high standards to which Wang holds himself. He never makes mediocre art or art meant to fulfil social obligations. His works that are available on the market are thus rare and uniformly excellent, and especially cherished by collectors. Whenever one becomes available it invariably attracts tremendous attention. Consequently, in the past decade, Wang's works have repeatedly broken auction price records and have increased in value multifold. A Wang Huaiqing is a collector's "crown piece"--a testament to his or her experience, resources, and good fortune.

"Artistic creation is about pursuing a single point regardless of all else. Its motivation is clear and simple, unalloyed and absolute."

Wang Huaiqing in conversation with Sotheby's, 30 December 2017

Wang Huaiqing's oil paintings are generally around 145 cm in height and width. The larger works can be considered rare masterpieces in which the artist intends important breakthroughs. In the spring 2016 evening auctions at Sotheby's Hong Kong, Wang's Feet 2 (200 x 320 cm) appeared with the historically high estimate of HKD 30,00,000-40,000,000, but because of the enthusiasm of collectors, it ultimately sold for the even higher price of HKD 54,520,000--a multifold increase from the artist's previous auction record. Wang Huaiqing's Yuhuchun Vase (Lot 1049) on offer in the present auction can be considered the sequel to the legendary Feet 2. Painted it in 1999, immediately after the Guggenheim exhibition China--Five Thousand Years, Yuhuchun Vase marked the peak of Wang Huaiqing's career. In monumental works such as this and Feet 2, the artist gave voie to his passionate desire to confront the contours of human history at large. Yuhuchun Vase clearly responds to and extends Feet 2 thematically. It depicts a partial Ming-style table with square legs that stands solidly against an abstract background of uncertain space and time.  Above it is an elegant Song-style vase, with a flaring mouth, narrow neck, round body, and round base. Although the vase is close to the edge of the table, it does not appear at risk of topping, but rather stands tall and proud. In Chinese traditional aesthetics, there is the notion that "words should have meaning, and the meaning should be auspicious." The Chinese for "vase" (ping) and "table" (an) form a homophone for "peace" (ping'an). Appreciating this quiet domestic scene with a vase, we feel the peace and tranquillity that, according to Chinese humanistic ideals, pervades both the home and the rest of the world.

This peace and tranquility is the first impression that Yuhuchun Vase gives, but Wang Huaiqing's meaning goes far beyond it. The foundation of his practice is his early training in realism. After the mid-1980's, he gradually developed an idiosyncratic semi-abstract language. Formally, this language was inspired by the domestic spaces of Jiangnan, Ming-style furniture, and Song-dynasty ceramics, but conceptually and spiritually it was grounded in Wang Huaiqing's philosophical engagements with symbology, structuralism, and ritual. The viewer who understands these three aspects will gain a full appreciation of Wang's work. To understand Yuhuchun Vase, a Sotheby's specialist conducted an interview with the artist in late 2017, as summarized below:

"Yuhuchun Vase was created at roughly the same time as Feet 2 and was one of my earlier works that combine porcelain with Ming-style furniture. This combination for me was a matter of course. On the surface it was a rebus for 'peace and tranquility,' but it also fulfilled a deeper psychological need and expressed my desire to create images of quietude and purity, of greater idealism and power for the Chinese people. Porcelain is born of clay, furniture of wood. They go perfectly together. As a Chinese, I am especially eager to listen to their dialogue. The model of the vase in the painting is a Song-dynasty Ru vase. Song porcelain set an aesthetic standard of nobility and simplicity that suited the pictorial language that I wanted to evolve. Referring to Cubism when painting this vase, I divided it hardly into a bright and dark side, with a clear boundary between the two. This boundary has the same linear quality as the legs of the table, becoming a central pillar of the entire composition like a flying buttress in Gothic architecture. Moreover, I inserted a horizontal white passage into the picture, suggesting a halo. In Western classical paintings, such as Rembrandts and Caravaggios, light represents the spirit. Traditional Chinese painting is often considered to lack the depiction of light. I disagree with this. I am eager to incorporate light into my painting, but this light is conceptual and philosophical rather than natural light. It is the light of 'let there be light'--like clouds and mist, formless and ethereal, enshrouding the world mystically and myseriously. In Yuhuchun Vase, this horizontal formless light and the vertical solid line together formed the skeletal structure of the painting already as I was first conceiving it."

From the above, it is clear that Wang Huaiqing planned his composition with utmost care and infused every pictorial element with profound symbolism, inviting the viewer to interpret the work and appreciate the beautiful harmony of its form and its idealistic vision. One year after the creation of Yuhuchun Vase, it was featured in the Asian art exhibition in The Armory in New York, attracting tremendous attention following the appearance of Wang Huaiqing's Aura of the Great Ming in the Guggenheim Museum in 1998. Yuhuchun Vase was a highlight in Wang's major solo exhibition at the Exchange Center in Hong Kong in 2005. Its importance for the artist and for both Asian and Western art worlds is clear. The present auction is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a major work by Wang Huaiqing.