In the late summer of 1989, Chen Ting-Shih, his granddaughter and a friend came to Beijing. We invited them to come to our home in Qijiayuan to see his paintings. He was very, very pleased to see that we displayed his Four Seasons (Lot 1042), his painting which we considered to have been inspired by the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, and his calligraphy dedicated to Sallie and me. As we had always given him a bottle of gin when we had visited his studio in Taipei in the '70s, we gift-wrapped a bottle of gin and gave it to him. He thanked me but did not open the package. After a couple of minutes, it seemed as though a light bulb went off in his head. He quickly wrote some characters, and his friend asked us if the package was a bottle of gin. When we nodded ‘yes,’ Chen Ting-Shih smiled from ear to ear.”
Excerpt from Sheridan and Sallie Bell’s interview with Sotheby’s, February 2020
From 1959 to 1971, Chen Ting-Shih was selected for the Bienal de São Paulo in Brazil five times, and in 1970, he won First Prize at the First International Print Biennial in South Korea. This noted member of the Modern Graphic Art Association and the Fifth Moon Group represented Chinese post-war art brilliantly on an international stage. Chen Ting-Shih was born in 1916 to the family of Shen Baozhen, a prominent official in the late Qing period. Although he lost his hearing in an accident at a young age, he did not hide his extraordinary talent and sense of his times. In addition to studying traditional painting and calligraphy from a young age, Chen was inspired by Xu Beihong in the 1930s and began self-studying the Western style of drawing and realist oil painting. In response to Lu Xun’s New Woodcut Movement, he began making realist prints to promote wartime resistance efforts against the Japanese. In the 1950s, Chen moved to Taiwan, where he threw himself into the post-war avant-garde art scene and gradually formed the abstract style so familiar to us today. Although Chen Ting-Shih’s extant work comprises mostly abstract prints, his achievements in abstract ink painting are just as noteworthy. Four Seasons, representing the artist’s first appearance at the Sotheby’s Evening Sale, is his earliest abstract ink painting. Based on existing documentation and auction records, this is his largest ink work and his only large-scale four-panel ink painting from a private collection. Chen once said, “My paintings belong to me; I don’t worry about or choose between East and West.” (Chen Ting-Shih: Spiritual Journeys Beyond the Physical Realm, Chapter 2) The rise of European and American post-war abstraction allowed Chen to move away from realist subject matter and explore the universal, philosophical themes he found much more interesting. In Four Seasons, he used emotional outpourings of splashed color and ink to create poetic, shining abstract landscapes. When the work was completed, it was collected by his friends Sheridan and Sallie Bell. In 1972, the Bells moved from the United States to Taiwan. They loved art, and through the Art Guild, founded by Jeanne Watten on Shuang Cheng Street in Taipei, they met post-war Chinese artists, primarily from the Fifth Moon Group. They were particularly close with Chen Ting-Shih. As the interview with the Bells shows, they brought Four Seasons with them in their move from Taiwan to Beijing, and when the couple later moved back to the United States, this work made the trip as well. The piece has been with them for 46 years, serving as an important witness to this lovely friendship and the development of Chinese post-war art. It is now being presented in public for the first time.
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