Tradition and Transformation: Exquisite Modern Chinese Paintings

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In the 20th century, the Chinese artistic milieu entered a new epoch. At the watershed between preeminence of traditional painting and influx of western culture, artists were divided into preserving convention and propelling the transformation of traditional ink painting.  Modern Chinese painting is therefore characterized by an unprecedented diversity of style and substance. This spring, Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Chinese Paintings Department presents an outstanding selection of paintings on figure, floral and bird, and landscape subjects, attesting to the variety and versatility of Chinese art.

Fine Chinese Paintings
02 April | Hong Kong

Tradition and Transformation: Exquisite Modern Chinese Paintings

  • Arnold Lee
    Fu Baoshi, Beauty under the Willows. Estimate HK$ 8,000,000-12,000,000.
    Beauty Under the Willows was a gift from Fu Baoshi in 1948 to Indian artist Y.K. Shukla who was studying Chinese paintings at National Beiping Art College, the same school where Fu taught. Portraying a lady strolling under swaying willow, this work sets as a distinguished example of the artist’s figure painting, whose facial composition and use of colour draw reference to lady subject painted by ancient artists. 

  • (Left) Jiang Zhaohe, Elderly Lady. Estimate HK$ 400,000-600,000. (Right) Jiang Zhaohe, Elderly Man. Estimate HK$ 400,000-600,000.
    Jiang Zhaohe’s figure painting distinguished itself with its truthful depiction of society by a realistic painting style and the depth of humanitarian spirits it embodies. Elderly Lady and Elderly Man exemplify the artist’s best known painting style, one which fuses technique and motif, western sketches and Chinese brushstrokes. The two exceptional portraits have remained in private hand to this day.

  • Arnold Lee
    Yu Fei’an (1889-1959), Butterflies by the Narcissus. Estimate HK$ 1,600,000-2,200,000.
    A gift to famous French Sinologist Robert Ruhlman in 1947, Butterflies by the Narcissus by Yu Fei’an celebrates the vitality of his garden with highly delicate brushstrokes.  A master of elaborate floral painting and a botanical enthusiast, Yu Fei’an outlined different types of narcissus and butterflies in monochrome ink, paying great attention to details, and accompanied it with an inscription on his studies on narcissus.

  • Arnold Lee
    Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien, 1899-1983), Blossoms in Four Seasons, 1980. Estimate HK$ 2,600,000-3,000,000.
    Blossoms in Four Seasons by Zhang Daqian celebrates a joyous vitality of botanical lives by innovatively juxtaposing plants in different seasons, with spring plants on the right and winter plant left, into a floral panorama. Aged 82, the artist attested his sprightly productivity by accomplishing this composition-wise challenging piece.

  • Arnold Lee
    Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien, 1899-1983), Lotus in Summer Breeze. Estimate HK$ 3,000,000-4,000,000.
    Painted in 1970, Lotus in Summer Breeze was a gift from Zhang Daqian to the parents-in-law of his fourth daughter Chang Sing Shen. Dominating the composition are rustling lotus leaves layered by pastel shades of blue and green, which, together with the lotus blooms in faint pink, brings to the audience an exceptionally harmonious palette of the artist.

  • Arnold Lee
    Xu Beihong (1895-1953), White Plum Blossoms, 1943. Estimate HK$ 4,000,000-6,000,000.
    A testament of friendship, White Plum Blossoms was painted by Xu Beihong for renowned artist Huang Binhong in 1943. A pioneer who revitalised traditional ink by western realism, Xu incorporated western painting concept into a traditional motif, modelling light and shadow of the branches with ink shades in different intensity.

  • Arnold Lee
    Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010), Parrots. Estimate HK$ 2,600,000-3,500,000.
    An enchanting play of brushwork and vivid colours in a square format, Wu Guanzhong’s Parrot stands as an excellent example of interpreting a conventional subject of ink painting with aesthetics of the west. Having studied fine arts in Paris in the late 1940s, Wu is noted to both Chinese and western art milieu for his experimental variation of ink, which, in this work, is demonstrated by the blazing range of colour and the festive splotches in the background.

  • Arnold Lee
    Fu Baoshi, Scholars Trekking in Snow Mountains, 1945. Estimate Upon Request.
    Headlining the modern Chinese paintings sale, Scholars Trekking in Snow Mountains is an eminent snow scene landscape by Fu Baoshi painted in 1945 and has been showcased in important exhibitions and catalogues. Inspired by a poem written by Tang dynasty poet Han Yu on his exile, the artist portrays the bleakness of winter landscape with minimal colour and his iconic spattered-ink technique. Highlighting the painting are four scholars near the lower left corner, whose story was illustrated by the poem written at the upper right.

  • Li Keran (1907-1989),The Orchid Pavilion, 1956. Estimate HK$ 6,000,000-8,000,000.
    Painted in 1956, The Orchid Pavilion is a distinguished early landscape work by Li Keran. Depicting a mountain scene after drizzle, the artist built up the depth of painting by layering light shades of ink, a concept he learnt from his teacher Huang Binhong. Not to be missed are the meticulous details of the historical heritage and the tiny herd boy and buffalo on footbridge.

  • Li Keran, Lofty Mountains in the Mist, 1988. Estimate HK$ 9,000,000-12,000,000.
    Illustrated in various important publications, Li Keran’s Lofty Mountains in the Mist is a formidable landscape painting in his later stage of life. The work, painted in 1988, features striking light and shadow effect executed by heavy layering of ink and coloured highlights along the slopes – a technique the artist reached maturity in his later years. Influenced by the “all-over” composition of abstract expressionism from the west, the artist left no corners of the work empty and filled the space with a long inscription.

  • Arnold Lee
    Lu Yanshao, Sailing by the Gorges, 1984. Estimate HK$ 6,500,000-8,000,000.
    Sailing by the Gorges by Lu Yanshao is an exceptionally large and technically challenging example of Yangtze riverscape – a celebrated motif inspired by the artist’s formidable rafting adventure along the river in mid 1940s. Painted in 1984, the painting directs viewer’s attention along its vast stretch of meticulously drawn water currents, which accentuates an unconventional element in Chinese painting: a modern ferry of the new epoch.

  • Arnold Lee
    Zhu Qizhan, Village in Lush Mountains, 1991. Estimate HK$ 350,000-500,000.
    Village in Lush Mountains is an impressive work by Zhu Qizhan in his final years. Trained in oil painting when he was young, Zhu assimilated artistic influences from the West into his painting and depicts a half-abstract landscape in powerful strokes of vibrant green.  

  • Arnold Lee
    Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien, 1899-1983), Verdant Hill and Azure Lakes. Estimate HK$ 5,000,000-7,000,000.
    Acclaimed as one of the most versatile artists in modern China, Zhang Daqian never stopped challenging himself. On Verdant Hill and Azure Lake, the artist experimented splashed green and azure blue on a wooden panel, a medium only rarely used by the artist in the late 1960s. Intertwined with the circular grain pattern of wood, the colours are executed in a unique sense of fluidity which distinctively illustrates the lushness of the spring landscape. 

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