Throughout the radical changes and the many hardships Lin Fengmian endured, he was always undaunted by adversity. He lived by three inviolable principles: love life, resist the repulsive and pursue goodness. Two of his happiest periods occurred in the earlier half of his life. The first was a period of childhood (1900-1919), and the second was his Hangzhou period (1927-1937) when he was full of confidence and focused on reforming art education. Hailing from a small mountain village in Meixian, Guangdong Province, Lin Fengmian grew up surrounded by nature. During the 1980s, Lin moved to Hong Kong with his hometown still fresh in his memory: ‘the floating clouds, the clear streams, the distant pine forests, and the green bamboo next to the house.’ Lin was in his 30s when he was teaching in Hangzhou, during this decade he was greatly supported by academic leader Cai Yuanpei. As a result, he threw his heart and soul into exploring new art. When he wasn’t strolling along the West Lake with family, he spent his time outside with his friends from the art community, studying art and discussing life. Many years later, he moved back to Hong Kong, and every time the he thought about his youth in Hangzhou, he would sigh and say, ‘Jiangnan is nice, but I remember Hangzhou the most. The sunrise seems to set the river on fire, and in the spring, the river turns light green and blue. How can one not recall Jiangnan with fondness?’ Lotus Pond (Lot 1035) reflects cherished memories of these two beautiful times in the artist’s life. Offered at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Evening Sale, this painting symbolises deep sentiment, elaborating Lin’s rich interpretations of nature and life.
Lin Fengmian spent his life merging Eastern and Western elements. His work is similar to Zhang Daqian’s lotus flowers in its meticulous, almost gongbi style of painting. Within the representational depiction lies a complex geometric composition informed by Cubism. The roundness of the leaves sets off the pointy petals and buds, creating a contrast between the two shapes. Intersecting, tangled flower stems compliment lines that sit atop these geometric shapes.
Compared with Lotus (68 x 133 cm, 1983), a similarly sized painting in ink and colour on paper in Lin Fengmian: Catalogue Raisonné, published by the Tianjin People’s Fine Art Publishing House, the colours in Lotus are set against a deep, burnt-ink background. When analysed in context with the challenges of Lin’s life, Lotus expresses the continuous search for light in darkness. With its pale background, the jade green leaves and pure white petals create the primary colour structure. This image exudes a sense of spring and optimism, conveying no hints of struggle, which is incredibly rare in Lin’s work making this piece a one of a kind.
The painting unfolds horizontally, measuring more than a meter long. The work seems to reference the horizontal concept by the Impressionist master Claude Monet at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. The elongated painting gently envelops the viewer, and the lush lotus pond is magnificent in this immersive format, showcasing Lin’s aesthetic judgment and free spirit. Referencing The Collected Works of Lin Feng Mian (Tianjin People’s Fine Art Publishing House), he made most of his similarly sized horizontal scrolls in the late 1970s and 1980s, many of depicting figures. The Heavenly South Gate (83.5 x 151.8 cm, 1989), The Battle of the Red Cliff (68 x 136 cm), and Palace Maid (83.5 x 152 cm, 1989) all have different subject matters, but achieve a similar visual effect to Lotus Pond. In The Battle of the Red Cliff, the figures are cut into geometric shapes, which Lin then repeated and layered.
In Lin’s paintings, flowers have magical, symbolic powers, gently resonating with the viewer’s emotions deeper than real flowers or hyper-realist paintings. Lotus Pond contains inexhaustible charms that the viewer can slowly appreciate and savour. It is well known that Lin loved flowers and loved painting them, particularly lotuses, which also appeared in his works featuring nudes and dramatic scenes. At this year’s spring sale, Beauty Defies Tyranny, which sold for more than HKD 10,000,000, also contains lotus flowers. Wu Guanzhong’s Lotus Pond (Lot 1033) is also offered in this sale, the subject matter and spiritual implications are derived from the same origin. In both, lotus flowers serve as a metaphor for the good things in life, but the two masters express this notion in different ways. Wu’s close-up composition, with a single lotus flower occupying the image, presents a visual effect that is fixed and focused. In Lin’s painting, lotus flowers of different sizes are layered and arranged at different depths, competing to bloom. This panoramic vision is bursting with vitality, which seems to extend even beyond the painting.
Lotus Pond was first shown at the 1995 Chinese Modern Painting and Sculpture Auction organized by Rong Bao Zhai (H.K.) and Associate Fine Arts Auctioneers Limited, which at that time, was known for auctioning Lin Fengmian’s original artwork. Later, the piece was shown at ‘Language of Flowers,’ held by the Asia University Museum of Modern Art in October 2018. Its inclusion in an exhibition of the work of Sanyu, Zao Wou-ki, Pan Yuliang, Walasse Ting, Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara, and other modern Eastern masters shows the cultural foundations and aesthetic of East and West fusion in Lotus Pond. In the painting, Lin’s memories of his personal experiences are perfectly presented with the youthful vigour of lotus flowers. When the flowers are in full bloom, a cool breeze blows; it uplifts the heart.
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