The 1950s and 60s marked the rise of the communist era in Mainland China. The artistic pioneers of Modernism under the Republic, following the shift in the government’s political ideology, were now subject to reform. Thereafter, they were to make only “red-themed,” or revolutionary, works. Guan Liang’s journey during those extenuating times was relatively smooth. While adhering to the mandate of depicting certain societal themes, he was able to preserve in himself a purity and sincerity, as well as a modernist spirit. As in the past, when he refused to be hindered by the conventions of traditional society and devoted himself to depicting characters from Beijing opera, Guan Liang again fully immersed himself in the lives of the Chinese working people. He experienced their daily joys and pains, living alongside them. In this way, he found inspiration for his art, celebrating and promoting the dignity of the workers’ lives. This would become the subject of a visually distinct series of paintings. As part of the “Song of Innocence” collection, last year’s Autumn Sale featured a 1965 oil painting by Guan Liang, titled Cattle Pasturing (55 x 67cm). It sold for more than five times the estimate, at HKD 5,175,000, setting off a sensation of excitement at the evening auction. The lot available at this Spring Sale, Swineherd (Lot 1007), comes from the same series. Simply and without embellishment, the painting depicts the daily lives of swineherds as they feed a circle of hogs. The artist intentionally conceals the two men’s expressions, even placing them on the left and right peripheries of the painting. The center of the painting is reserved for the seven plump and delightful piglets, rich with the suggestion of happiness and contentment that resides in an ordinary life. This painting depicts a scene with both realism and an aesthetic aura of joy and optimism. It is a true accomplishment, indeed.
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