Sotheby’s to Sell Important works by Zao Wou-ki, Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh-Chun and Wang Yidong

On 3 October, Sotheby’s are offering aselection of over 140 lots estimated at HK$190 million / US$24.4 million*. Curated along thematic lines, the auction will present two special sessions – Female Artists of 20th Century China and The Art of Paper. Important works by Zao Wou-ki, Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh-Chun and Wang Yidong will also be on offer.


Zao Wou-ki, 10.1.68 (est. HK$25- 35 million), created during the pinnacle of Zao’s career in the 1960s. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Female Artists of 20th Century China
Two mainstream movements dominated the early development of 20th Century Chinese art. The first was the Modernist School, spearheaded by Lin Fengmian who advocated integration of Western and Eastern influences. Another was the Realism School in which Xu Beihong was the leading figure. By comparison, a number of female artists active during this period transcended these differences. When faced with a choice between Oriental tradition and Western modern art, they maintained an open attitude and willingly imbibed both. Although famous female artists such as Fan Tchunpi, Cai Weilian and Pan Yuliang were steeped in a strong foundation of Realism techniques, their artistic horizons were broadened by a continuous input of new ideas and elements into their art.

Three Pan Yuliang masterpieces will be offered this season. Moonlight Sonata (est. HK$3.8 – 5 million) was painted during Pan’s second trip to Paris. Here, a lady in traditional Chinese costume is seen playing the pipa, a plucked string instrument, held in her embrace under full moonlight. Epitomising classical Oriental beauty, the maiden’s demure elegance is expressed through her hands, facial features and feminine curves, all rendered delicately through the artist’s brush. In contrast to her demeanor is her carefree pose and flamboyant red clothing, which seem to suggest she has a mind of her own. The painting calls to mind the artist’s early romantic encounter with her other half Pan Zanhua, whom she eventually married. Moonlight Sonata is undoubtedly a self-portrait by the artist and holds the key to a deeper understanding of her artistic performances and inner emotional world when it was executed during the 1950s. The painting, which belongs to a French private collector, was acquired from the artist’s friend Wang Shouyi and is a rare artistic gem.

The Art of Paper
Besides the works of distinguished female artists, the auction also showcases The Art of Paper. Offered under this session are the paintings of celebrity artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, including Xu Beihong, Wu Zuoren, Sanyu, Pan Yuliang, Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun, Chao Chung-Hsiang, Guo Bochuan, Hung Jui-Lin, Max Liu, Xiao Rusong, Walasse Ting, Luis Chan, Ai Xuan and Wang Yidong.

In Praise of Light (est. HK$1.2 – 1.8 million) is a classic work by Chao Chung-Hsiang, completed at the zenith of his career during the 1980s. It also featured on the cover of an art catalogue entitled Chao Chung-hsiang, published by Hong Kong’s Alisan Fine Arts Gallery in 1971. Fusing artistic influences from the East and West, the painting is executed on traditional rice paper. It is, however, marked by a riot of colours from the luminescent acrylic paints administered in broad and bold brushwork. The composition is dominated by a desolate bamboo forest. Lying below are seven purplish-blue fledglings that survey the world around them curiously. These young birds are a metaphor for Chao’s solitude when living abroad alone and his yearnings for family love. On the painting’s upper portion is a bright sun, spreading its gentle light and warmth in what could be interpreted as the artist’s optimism in life and his philosophical contemplations on his ancestral links and the affections of friendship.

More highlights
Zao Wou-ki reached another pinnacle of his career in the 1960s. It was a period when his abstract work won positive acclaim from several international art critics, with a deluge of invitations from art museums offering to exhibit his paintings. 10.1.68 (est. HK$25 – 35 million) was the most spectacular of Zao’s works on display at his solo exhibition in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1968. Contrary to his usual practice of using similar colour schemes, he boldly employs highly contrasting bluish-green and orange-red hues here, pitting them against each other on the same canvas. Under his forceful brushstrokes, an abstract space comes into being, which conjures a sense of resurrection on heaven and earth and is infused with a soaring spirit that leaves viewers captivated. Fibre-like black lines seem to vibrate on the painting at different frequencies, underlining the artist’s passion for life and inviting viewers to join with him in celebration. Preserved in excellent conditions in a private collection for over two decades, the painting’s debut in the market offers collectors a rare opportunity.

Another Zao Wou-ki’s masterpiece Vaque (est. HK$4.8 – 6.8 million) is highly representative of the “oracle-bones” phase of his career. It was inspired by a bull-fight he watched in Spain. Eschewing realism to embrace an approach of personalised symbolism, he draws heavily from a mix of Chinese calligraphy, oracle inscriptions and hieroglyphics, to produce dynamic lines and symbols in jet-black and dark blue hues. Dominating the upper half of the painting is a space contained by an indigo arc, which stands for a coliseum in which a female matador on horseback races around waving a cape to tame a raging bull. The dark blue outer fringe represents a cheering crowd of spectators. Employing shades of blue in progressive intensity, Zao creates an ethereal, dream-like and circular realm. This impression is reinforced by the Chinese character ‘whirlpool” written next to his signature behind the painting. Just like a whirlpool, the endless scenes of high passion in the coliseum end darkly in death, as this painting suggests.

Reclining Nude (est. HK$10 – 20 million) is a representative work of modern Chinese art master Sanyu from the 1930s. The painting was on display at the Sanyu: Language of the Body exhibition, held at Musée Guimet in Paris in 2004. Created from continuously smooth-flowing, decisive lines, which demonstrate the artist’s firm grasp of Chinese calligraphy skills, the pink nude figure of a woman reclines across a yellow carpet embroidered with auspicious Chinese symbols. With her back in full view, it seems that she is fast asleep. Though she sleeps in solitude, her seductive figure is able to lure viewers into her dreams. Set against a plain backdrop, Sanyu’s sparing use of colours and his concise brushwork offer a remarkable display of Oriental aesthetics, nuances and his own bold confidence. Oil paintings from the 1930s with a nude-portrait theme are rare and few in number. Only around ten of them have survived the decades in mint condition. This painting comes from a private collection in Europe and is a highly desirable work of art.

Wedding Night (est. HK$8 – 12 million) is an outstanding work completed in the 1990s by Wang Yidong, a celebrated proponent of Neo-Classical Realism in China. Pursuing a theatrical style of composition, it uses the dramatic contrast of light and darkness to emphasise a newly-wed couple exchanging toasts. The bright candlelight on the table casts a glow on the bride’s face, her head slightly tilted to avoid eye contact with her groom and with a smile expressing a mixture of joy and shyness. Visually, the arcs of their raised arms run parallel to the red drapery above them. A cloth bouquet, through which the drapery is tied together, is also aligned with the palms of the couple, suggesting a life of togetherness for them ahead. Harnessing his realistic painting skills and meticulous composition, the artist creates a picture of matrimonial bliss and the vow of eternity underlying the union.

Listening to Birds Song (est. HK$4.2 – 6 million) is a classic work by Chen Yifei, accomplished in the 1990s. Originally from London’s Marlborough Gallery, it has been well preserved in a private European collection for a decade and is coming to the auction market for the first time. Using his classic sfumato (blurring) techniques, Chen Yifei depicts an Oriental maiden in a qipao and holding a paper fan. On her right is a bird cage but the artist stops short of painting a bird in captivity. Instead, what is seen here is a maiden raising her hand, her head cocked to one side as though making an attempt to hear clearly.

This approach ignites viewers’ imagination of a bird song being heard, without any form in sight. Poetic realism, coupled with an Oriental artistic technique to express one’s inner feelings through a scene depicted, pervades the entire painting.

Hangzhou Lingyin Temple?est. HK$1.8 – 2.6 million) was painted in the 1970s by modern Chinese art master Guan Liang. The work recreates his memories of the scenic spots around the Northwestern part of West Lake in Hangzhou. Combining perspective and composition techniques, the artist skillfully directs the viewer’s focus on a pedestrian path depicted in the centre of the painting. The road surface is aglow with glimmering light filtered through the tree leaves above. Varying shades of translucent orange and yellow are blended to evoke an ambience of warmth. Yet, the swaying foliage, so dexterously delineated by brisk, short brushstrokes administered in different directions, suggests a caressing breeze blowing through the temple compounds. Both sides of the path are lined by trees, which provide visitors with shelter and contribute to the scene of tranquility. Although the composition theme is centred on Lingyin Temple, Guan Liang focuses not so much on the majestic temple architecture, but the simplicity and reality of everyday life.

Ju Ming’s Single Whip (est. HK$10 – 20 million) is one of the most classic works from his Taichi Series, inspired by the movements in this martial arts form. “Single Whip” is one of the fundamental forms in Taichi by lowering one’s centre of gravity to avert the opponent’s attack. One uses the pose to launch a counterattack as the body rapidly darts forward and upward. The artist successfully captures its inherent dramatic momentum with a visual power and formal beauty through which the viewer can comprehend the strong harmony embodied in Taichi between Man and Nature. This sculpture is the largest work of its kind in the market to feature a Taichi motif.

Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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