T his April, an extremely rare splashed-colour gold screen by Zhang Daqian will make its auction debut in Hong Kong. Celebrating Sotheby’s 50th anniversary in Asia, the Fine Chinese Paintings department presents Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen, a masterpiece created in 1973 and treasured by the family of the eminent collector C.S. Loh for half a century. This magnificent work of art features a captivating depiction of a blooming lotus pond brought to life with a dynamic blend of vivid colours and a rich lustre of glittering gold, conveying a sense of wonder that stands the test of time.
50 Years New in Asia: Enlightenment in the Pink Lotuses of Zhang Daqian
Zhang Daqian 張大千
Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen〈花開十丈影參差〉
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T hroughout his life, Zhang Daqian had always been fascinated by lotuses, which are ‘pure and solemn, like the bearing of a gentleman’. He painted countless works of them. In his youth, he began by imitating works by ancient masters including Xu Wei and Bada Shanren. After a journey westwards to Dunhuang, he made great advances in his use of line, and became more skilled at painting lotuses in the meticulous (gongbi) style. From the 1960s, he tended toward more expressionistic and abstract brushwork fused with splashed ink and colour techniques, implying form with formlessness. Over his artistic career of nearly six decades, he tirelessly studied the painting of lotuses, which became one of his most signature subject matters.
He occasionally painted lotus flower works in large scale formats, but very few on Japanese screens. There are only six such large-scale screens publicly known:
1. Ink Lotuses on Gold Screen, splashed ink on gold screen, 1965.
Painted for the artist’s fifth daughter Chang Sing Pei as part of her dowry
2. Recluse in Summer Mountains, splashed ink and colour on screen, 1968.
Painted for the artist’s fourth daughter Chang Sing Shen as part of her dowry
3. Crimson Lotuses on Gold Screen, splashed colour on gold screen, 1975.
Sold by Sotheby’s HK in 2002 for 20.22m HKD (2.6m USD) setting a new world record for the artist, and any modern Chinese painting
4. Ink Lotus, ink on gold screen, 1958,
Painted for his good friend and art researcher, Zeng Xianqi
5. Lotus, 1953
ink lotus on gold screen
6. The present work
As seen above, only a handful of Japanese screens was painted, and Recluse in Summer Mountains was painted on paper, so only five gold screens are known to have been created. Zhang was always very particular about his painting materials, and as screens lined with gold leaves were especially costly, they were only created on commission. The high-production cost and the inconvenience of shipping made these screens a rare medium which the artist only reserved for very important people or occasions.
Furthermore, the gold leaf has a smooth surface that does not absorb water or ink well, so controlling the tone of colours is much more difficult than using xuan paper. The movements of the ink and colour also leave distinct traces on gold, so even the slightest mistake would have ruined the painting.
This splendid work features a captivating depiction of an exuberant lotus pond brought to life. Amongst the swaying giant leaves and long sweeping stems are half hidden pale pink lotuses, delicate and subtle, as if hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The dynamic blend of vivid mineral colours and sumptuous ink against the rich lustre of glittering gold creates striking contrast and presents a breathtaking spectacle. It is an exceptional masterpiece that demonstrates the artist’s bold character and finest artistry.
Pink Lotuses on Gold Screen was painted in 1973 and bears the seal (huanbi’an), which is the artist’s home in California, suggesting that the artist transported the screen all the way from Japan to complete it in his residence in USA. Even at the age of 75, Zhang Daqian was in excellent physical condition. His vigorous yet unrestrained brushwork and the composition filled with tension, seemingly completed in one breath. The magnificence of the painting reveals Zhang Daqian’s bold yet upright character. After he finished the painting, he added the seal ‘What the heart wishes, the hand accomplishes’ (dexin yingshou) in the lower left corner, showing his satisfaction with the piece.