The following three lots by Liu Dan are fresh to the market and accompanied with stories of personal sentiment from their respective owners. In all of Liu Dan’s works, whether ink paintings, drawings or watercolours, there is a palpable sense of timelessness, a concept that is deeply rooted in the Chinese tradition. Without documentation or personal insights, it is difficult to date his works based on style or technique alone because each work manifests an equally high level of skill with little reference to changing artistic styles, only subject.
Lot 510 is a drawing of an actual 17th century English bound prayer book, the artist’s first study of the object following his portraits of a small Chinese dictionary begun in 1986. Drawn in exact scale to the miniature book, Liu skilfully captures the weight and feel of the heavy worn pages and conveys the shimmering texture of the silk embroidery. The artist acquired the prayer book for its timeworn appearance where the embroidery work on areas of the spine and cover are nearly threadbare showing the actual linen of the binding. The evidence of time and history of ownership are apparent in this study and of special interest to Liu Dan, whose possession of the book lends a new chapter to the object’s life as it becomes the subject of his artistic studies.
Liu Dan's concern for time and uncertainty led to the creation of Lot 555, a painting of a seated scholar in a pavilion. The small work is delicately inscribed with the poem Letter to Censor Han (Ji Han Jian Yi Zhu) by the influential Tang dynasty poet Du Fu, whose intellectual works are characterized by great emotional sentiments in response to the conditions of his time. While Du Fu’s personal distress stemmed from being denied official appointment during the rebellion of An Lushan, Liu Dan herein appropriates the poet’s concern for the passage of time and contemplates the limitations that time imposes on one. The unusually small painting is filled with meticulous detail and fine brushstrokes that are a remarkable example of patience, exquisite gongbi technique and kaishu calligraphy. Concerned that such precision would be increasingly difficult in time, Liu painted this work for a close friend and was later fitted for his first pair of glasses following its completion.
Lastly, the large Avalokitesvara (Lot 556) is a distinctive image located in the Mogao caves (No. 320) in Dunhuang and is the earliest dated work by Liu Dan presented at auction to date. Liu Dan visited the historic site in the late 1970s prior to moving to Hawaii in the United States and created a series of Dunhuang images before his departure. His skilful gongbi and watercolour technique is apparent in such early works that pay tribute to the sublime art of his Chinese heritage. This lot was later acquired by Lily Sun Sui-fong—granddaughter of Sun Yat-sen—and treasured within the devoutly Buddhist home.
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