This lovely grouping of Chen Wen Hsi works accompanies a larger collection of ink paintings from the collection of Xu Bisong which will be offered in Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Paintings auction. Xu (1908-1978) was originally from Chao’an, in Guangdong province and grew up in a business family that was trading in Southeast Asia for a several generations. Xu’s father, Xu Zetong left Chao’an to trade abroad in the early 20th
century, developing an import-export trade business in the ports of Thailand, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Shantou. He amassed his fortunes by running diverse operations in rice, money, brick, gauze and civil affairs. Xu Zetong was also a supporter of Sun Yat-sen’s revolution and was a member of the local revolutionary league.
Xu Bisong eventually took over his father’s business. He immigrated to Thailand to expand and diversify his family’s industry presence in Thailand. He was thoroughly fascinated by art, admiring ceramics, jade, paintings, and calligraphy. Xu was a strong supporter of cultural activities, maintaining close relationships within the art circle over the years. Parts of his impressive collection were acquired directly from the artists during his frequent visits to their local exhibitions. With an exquisite eye for finesse, Xu collected works by artists across geographical boundaries, including artists from his hometown in Guangdong and Southeast Asia.
Notably, Xu was an avid patron of Xu Beihong and Zhang Daqian, three of Zhang’s pieces hail from the coveted Darjeeling period of the artist. Apart from these impressive Chinese masterworks, XuBisong was also a fond admirer of Chen Wen Hsi and acquired four of the paintings featured in this current sale.
It was likely that Xu encountered Wen Hsi’s works during his frequent visits to nearby Singapore, or during Wen Hsi’s early exhibitions in Bangkok, and acquired the pieces from the artist. In many ways, Wen Hsi’s journey to Southeast Asia mirrors Xu Bisong’s. Both left Guangdong province to pursue new frontiers yet were committed to preserve their roots to China.
The four paintings by Chen Wen Hsi are emblematic of the lyrical and expressive heights achieved by the artist. Herons (Lot 339) is a wonderfully composed work, showcasing the artist’s confident brushwork, executed with swift precision. The artist elegantly inscribed a note in running script style calligraphy, which roughly translates as follows:
“(The brushworks of) this painting move freely and does not follow the standard rules or belong to any (artistic) factions. Used to note,石濤 Shitao's words that people nowadays follow the rules made by people in the past/ancient people, without knowing what have the people in the past followed. Indeed, Wen Hsi also noted.”
The angularity of the herons’ bodies and necks allude to their agile movements and elegance of the birds. Indeed Wen Hsi’s ability to configure these overlapping shapes of broad stokes point to the artist’s early interest in Cubism.
Carps by the Flowers (Lot 340), Mother Hen and Chicks (Lot 341), and Sparrows by the Reeds (Lot 358) are lively depictions that were drawn from Wen Hsi’s life studies of these animals movements and behaviors. The delicate coloring in the flowers that frame the paintings of the carps and chickens indicate yet again the eloquence of the maestro’s technique. Together these ink paintings reveal the collector’s exquisite taste and candid eye for modern interpretations of Chinese classical painting.