Lot 1019
  • 1019

GUAN LIANG | Summer Palace

1,200,000 - 2,400,000 HKD
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  • Guan Liang
  • Summer Palace
  • signed in Chinese
  • oil on canvas
  • 50.1 by 72.6 cm; 19 ¾ by 28 ⅝ in.  
executed in 1950


Christie's, Taipei, 26 October 1997, Lot 31
Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector 


Taipei, Lin & Keng Gallery, Guan Liang: 100 Years Retrospective Exhibition, 19 April - 14 May 2000


Guan Liang: 100 Years Retrospective Exhibition, Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, 2000, p. 43
CANS Art News Editing Team, ed., Guan Liang 1900 - 1986, Chinese Art Books Co., Taipei, 2012, p. 128
Shanghai Artists Association, ed., Works of Representatives of Shanghai Artists in the Century: Guan Liang, Shanghai Calligraphy and Painting Publishing House, Shanghai, 2013, p. 101
Beijing Fine Art Academy, ed., Chinese Art in The 20th Century, Gao Miao Chuan Shen: The Research of Guan Liang's Paintings, Guangxi Fine Arts Publishing House, Nanning, 2015, p. 209


The work is overall in good condition, except for a few fine hairline cracks near the top edge of the canvas. Upon close inspection, there are traces to suggest that the canvas was removed from the stretcher and rolled up. Examination under UV light reveals some minor signs of retouching near the top edge and lower centre of the painting.
"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

Beijing’s New Look: Appreciating the Beauty of the Garden During World War II, Guan Liang travelled throughout northwest China collecting objects of local culture. He created many landscape paintings of important cultural and historical landmarks. Due to supply shortages at the time, oil paint was hard to come by, so he often used ink or watercolours. From the 1950s onward, as China embarked upon a socialist development program, Guan Liang’s landscapes came to portray scenes of China’s new society and the artist’s joyful embrace of the new era. The beautiful hopes of the nation and its people shone through in his paintings, thereby embodying the character of the nation. Guan's subjects were wide-ranging and comprehensive, and Summer Palace (Lot 1019) is one of the best of these works.

The Summer Palace in Beijing was a large imperial garden in the Qing period. In the 1950s, the new government allocated funds to renovate the palace and its gardens and open them to the public. As a result, the lavish grounds were no longer a representation imperial rule, but instead took on a new aspect socialist change in which China’s wealth was shared with the people. The verdant garden resembles a southern water town, which would have been familiar to Guan Liang, who hailed from southern China. In this garden, he seized the opportunity to paint from life. Confronted with this magnificent landscape, he took a panoramic perspective, looking toward Wanshou Mountain from one end of Kunming Lake. Here, he observed the grandness even in the humblest of things, like he did in Hangzhou Ling Yin Temple (Lot 1018). He absorbed the natural beauty of the lakes and mountains at the Summer Palace with just a glance. A small bridge sits in the foreground, and the overall image looks more like a large stage, with the viewer sitting on the other side of the curtain, appreciating the beauty and wisdom of Chinese gardens and architecture.

The Summer Palace was a major achievement in the traditional gardening arts, world-renowned for its skilful balance of the artificial and the natural. While it expressed the imperial family’s glory and style, the garden also retained natural subtleties. As they say, "Though it was made by man, it appears to have been bestowed by heaven." Situating gardens amidst mountains and waters created an ideal ecosystem of harmonious coexistence. This beautiful scene resonated with Guan Liang, because his landscape paintings often stressed "the unity of man and nature." 

Within the framework of "red themes", socialist realism dominated creative models for Chinese artists in the 1950s and 1960s. Looking back on Guan Liang’s work, he managed to retain a large degree of stylistic freedom. His expressive methods did not fall into a set pattern, showing that he had not abandoned the Modernist spirit and that he always pursued a natural sincerity. Guan used loose, fine brushstrokes to express the abundance of a summer garden. The piece is reminiscent of the garden paintings of Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir. We can see traces of what Guan Liang learned of Western painting when he was in Japan. His nimble, simple, and terse brushwork is a synthesis of what he learned, and yet cannot be attributed to anyone else as it also reveals an original Chinese cultural aesthetic.