Lot 1002
  • 1002

GUAN LIANG | Composition

2,000,000 - 4,000,000 HKD
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  • Guan Liang
  • Composition 
  • oil on canvas
  • 54.6 by 64.3 cm; 21 ½ by 25 ⅜ in. 
executed in 1948


Collection of Guan Hanxing
Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector 


Hong Kong, Furama Hotel Hall and Boya Art Exhibition Hall, An Exhibition of Guan-Liang's Works: Oil Paintings & Chinese Paintings, December 1981 - January 1982


Guan Liang, Sichuan People's Publishing, 1979, plate 38
Artist's Publishing, ed., Guan Liang, Boya Art, Hong Kong, 1981, plate 35
Xue Jianhua, ed., Guan Liang, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Shanghai, 2009, p. 111
CANS Art News Editing Team, ed., Guan Liang 1900 - 1986, Chinese Art Books Co., Taipei, 2012, p.153
Cheng Nai-Ming, ed., CANS Art News April 2012 No. 87, Chinese Art Books Co., Taipei, 2012, p. 83


The work is overall in good and its original condition, except for some hairline craquelures, primarily along the extreme top and bottom edges of the canvas. Examination under UV light reveals no sign of restoration.
"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

Following the reigns of the emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu during the Qing dynasty, China opened its doors to the rest of the world. As a result, Chinese art chanced upon an historic opportunity to join the rise of the Modern art movement. The coastal regions in particular served as axes of collision and interaction between Eastern and Western culture, the route from Beijing to Tianjin, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangdong, Taiwan and Hong Kong woven like a golden thread through Chinese modern art. Even before then, Guangdong and its surrounding region retained an atmosphere of liberality, unwavering despite the rest of the country’s isolation from the world, serving as the sole international commercial port during the reigns of Qing-dynasty emperors Yongzheng and Qianlong. In Guangdong, there existed an atmosphere of exploration and travel. The accomplishments of the Cantonese as a group are particularly noteworthy. Of course, any list of the most influential artists in Chinese art domestically, as well as the most accomplished, must include the French-trained Lin Fengmian, the Japanese-trained Ding Yanyong, and Guan Liang. These three modern artists have been hailed the “Three Masters of Guangdong.” Proficient in both oil and ink-wash painting, this trio of artists was closely linked with all of the major art institutions in the country. Through their efforts, the seeds of modernism were spread across the country during the blustery and tumultuous climate of the 20th century. For their contributions to the development of Chinese modern art and the revolution of traditional ink-wash painting, these three artists can only be regarded as monumental, seminal figures. This season’s Evening Sale marks the rare occasion in which masterpieces by all three of these great artists will be presented. Collectors will have the opportunity to appreciate the threads of stylistic similarity and divergence among their works.

This season’s offerings of Guan Liang’s works will be a continuation of last Autumn season’s legendary success. Of equally reputable provenance, this season features twenty-eight of Guan Liang’s works, including oil paintings, ink-wash paintings, watercolors, and sketches, with subjects ranging from still-lifes to landscapes, human figures, and Chinese opera. Shuttling between the works by both Eastern and Western masters during the Day and Evening Sales, Guan Liang is a mighty bridge uniting the two worlds. 

Still Life 

Still lifes are a classic subject in Western art, intended to express the beauty existing between an inanimate object and its space, while also showcasing the artist’s tastes and interests, not dissimilar from the qinggongtu or bogutu in traditional Chinese painting. The earliest surviving oil painting by Guan Liang is Qinggong, completed in 1927. One can discern influences of the Japanese School in the artist’s use of color, light, and composition, all inclining toward realism. By the time the artist created Still Life (Lot 1001), however, his style had matured, with more elements of individual subjectivity. His use of color is bold yet measured, natural yet full of imagination. The colors of the fruits and flowers are rich and saturated, bright yet refined. The entire scene is composed of simple lines that create vividness and texture, fully embodying the philosophy of “using brushstrokes sparingly to convey rich meaning.” On the right side sits a porcelain vase, its placement seemingly casual, yet creating a marvelous “painting within a painting” effect. With only a few brushstrokes, the artist has conveyed a scene rich with interest and delight. It is readily apparent that by this time in his career, Guan Liang was no longer bound to the constraints of realism. Although depicting a still life, the painting is not merely a reproduction, but a scene suffused with imagination. It is a testament to Guan Liang’s discovery of the xieyi spirit within the context of Chinese oil painting.


Soon after Still Life came Composition (Lot 1002), even more striking for its singularity. On the right side of the canvas is the side view of a Buddha head statue, generating spatial and symbolic contrast with the raw fish and meats on the left side. The image is fantastical and mesmerizing, conjuring the classic still-lifes of Italian surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico. Completed in 1948, it is the only oil painting of Guan Liang’s invoking elements of Buddhism, perhaps tied to Guan Liang’s travels to northwest China in 1942 for artistic observation and inspiration. During his two years of travel, the artist visited the Central Plain, Emei Mountain, and Leshan, then travelled along the Jialing River to Guangyuan, heading north through Jianmenguan. Finally, he returned to Luoyang, where he visited and was inspired by the ancient treasures. These visits awakened a passionate interest in ancient Buddhist art, leading the artist to a series of Buddhist artworks, the earliest records of this intensive study including the gouache Thousand Buddhas in Guangyuan and his color-ink and oil paintings of the Chongqing Dazu Rock Carvings. In contrast to Still Life, the placing of the Buddha head statue in Composition is not merely a presentation of the object’s aesthetic beauty, but rather emphasizes the contrast in symbolic meaning among the painting’s collection of inanimate objects.

Examining its composition, one can see Guan Liang’s intentional creation of a two-dimensional space, his application of color creating large surface areas of geometric shapes. The scene is broken up horizontally, invoking a Cubist arrangement. At the same time, he eschews objective portrayals of light, space, and substance, flattening the piece of red meat upon the canvas as a rectangle, blurring the lines of reality and captivating the viewer’s interest. In this way, he stretches the distance between art and reality, enhancing the charm and power of the image. Additionally, the curtain on the left is embellished with natural, easy lines, conjuring the style of the Fauvists, as well as the xieyi spirit of traditional Chinese painting. The image of the Buddha head statue evokes a sense of peace and tranquility, and the fish, a homonym in Chinese for “bounty,” symbolizes wealth and good harvest. Guan Liang’s message of blessings and well-wishes are clearly conveyed. Surveying the entire catalogue of Guan Liang’s major publications and auction records, there appears to be only one such work with Buddhist elements and such ingenuous composition. It is a one-of-a-kind gem.